Friday, April 23, 2010
Why We Fight About This. Specifically, it's about evolution. However, the idea of Christians becoming defensive and closed minded due to a challenge to the cohesiveness of our faith is the very point of this blog. The goal here is to challenge ideas without feeling like the cohesion is gone.
The Pastor As Docent. Great article using the metaphor of a docent in order to describe the role of the pastor. I think it's a very creative and good metaphor.
Spirit-Centered Progressive Christianity. This was written by one of the presenters at the TAG10 conference I attended last month. It almost seems like a response to my biggest criticisms of the conference. I doubt Epperly even read or knows of my comments, but I found his article quite interesting.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
This story is usually used to condemn (as usual) the Hebrews and point out their wickedness and stupidity. They have God right there on the hill. They have seen great miracles. Yet they create a crummy little golden calf as their god.
I wonder if this is really as accurate as think it is. I've never heard this interpretation, but I'm going to throw it out as an option. As many people know, God's name in Hebrew is YHWH, often written as Yahweh in English. There are many records of this name, both biblically and extra-biblically.
As many know, the various gods were represented in images. But did you know Yahweh was, too? I don't remember the exact details, but he was represented as bull or cow or something along those lines.
Does that sound similar at all to the golden calf story? What if the Hebrews were not replacing Yahweh, but simply creating a representation of him that they could see and touch? Most of us essentially do that with various religious trinkets, most notably crosses. It's a way of feeling God's presence with us.
What if the issue was not the Hebrews replacing God, but them interacting with God in ways similar to other cultures (i.e. using a physical idol)? Many of the strict rules set forth as the Hebrews transitioned from Egypt to Israel were changed over time to be made less strict. Many interpretations of the rules include them existing in order to set the Hebrew nation apart from other nations. The Hebrews were messing with this by creating the idol.
What do you think? Could this be a possibility? I throw it out, not because it will make much difference, but we should remember that our interpretations of biblical stories on first read (or second, third, etc.) may not be as accurate as they actually are. Things may be much more complicated...
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I've heard it in news articles, on street corners, in casual conversation, on blogs, from the pulpit, and probably in many other situations.
I wonder if this is really useful, effective, or God honoring...
I think there's something to be said for having humility of not assuming we completely understand an individual's relationship with God. Sure, there are times when we can be pretty sure someone may not be a "Christian," but what is the benefit of advertising that?
In small settings, a discussion may be acceptable, but I personally have an issue when it's in a large, public setting, particularly from the pulpit. Not only have I disagreed with many of the judgments of preachers, the comments can be misunderstood, and the speaker may not have time to clarify what they mean by it or why they think a person is in Hell.
Again, though, what does it matter? Why are we judging others who are already dead? Is this really useful? What do you think?
Friday, April 16, 2010
Some of you long-time evangelicals will probably know of Jennifer Knapp. I remember listening to hear in late high school. She had too rough an edge for my preference, but she was good. There was a recent interview she did with Christianity Today that had some very powerful statements.
The interview was spurred on by her return to the music industry (I found out she took a 7 year hiatus). Of particular focus in part of the interview was the fact that she has come out as gay. I find it interesting that this is a point of emphasis in the interview. It would probably not be the case in other, secular magazines. However, it was relevant, as there was discussion about how her homosexuality impacted her hiatus from music and her return.
Her responses to a couple of questions (copied below) were particularly powerful to me in emphasizing how the American church does such an awful job at interacting with sexuality. We destroy people's spirituality and create a spiritual struggle where there may not be one. Do we really need to induce crises of faith and make problems worse than they really are? And I think it's quite important to note that people who are homosexual can have an incredible zeal for Christ.
Whatever your opinion of homosexuality, please remember to put it in context and to treat homosexuals with dignity and respect. If homosexuality is a sin, it is a sin no worse than the many you and I commit on a daily basis. Why should it prevent anyone from having a relationship with God or communing with a group of believers?
I understand. But I'm curious: Were you struggling with same-sex attraction when writing your first three albums? Those songs are so confessional, clearly coming from a place of a person who knows her need for grace and mercy.
Knapp: To be honest, it never occurred to me while writing those songs. I wasn't seeking out a same-sex relationship during that time.
During my college years, I received some admonishment about some relationships I'd had with women. Some people said, "You might want to renegotiate that," even though those relationships weren't sexual. Hindsight being 20/20, I guess it makes sense. But if you remove the social problem that homosexuality brings to the church—and the debate as to whether or not it should be called a "struggle," because there are proponents on both sides—you remove the notion that I am living my life with a great deal of joy. It never occurred to me that I was in something that should be labeled as a "struggle." The struggle I've had has been with the church, acknowledging me as a human being, trying to live the spiritual life that I've been called to, in whatever ramshackled, broken, frustrated way that I've always approached my faith. I still consider my hope to be a whole human being, to be a person of love and grace. So it's difficult for me to say that I've struggled within myself, because I haven't. I've struggled with other people. I've struggled with what that means in my own faith. I have struggled with how that perception of me will affect the way I feel about myself.
So why come out of the closet, so to speak?
Knapp: I'm in no way capable of leading a charge for some kind of activist movement. I'm just a normal human being who's dealing with normal everyday life scenarios. As a Christian, I'm doing that as best as I can. The heartbreaking thing to me is that we're all hopelessly deceived if we don't think that there are people within our churches, within our communities, who want to hold on to the person they love, whatever sex that may be, and hold on to their faith. It's a hard notion. It will be a struggle for those who are in a spot that they have to choose between one or the other. The struggle I've been through—and I don't know if I will ever be fully out of it—is feeling like I have to justify my faith or the decisions that I've made to choose to love who I choose to love.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
With the focus of this blog on doubt and struggles, this is one of the most relevant reviews. When I saw the title and description, I jumped at the chance to review it, very excited with what I saw. I was hoping it would be a great resource to send people to when they are struggling or experiencing a dark night of the soul.
The description stated the book "gives us the freedom to ask our tough questions... and the wisdom to find the answers." This is the kind of thing I live on and love promoting. In the introduction, Habermas states that "what we tell ourselves is of utmost importance in terms of how we 'feel' about God's seeming silence" (p. xiii). I completely agree with that, as our anxiety about doubt often causes the problems. This anxiety prevents us from asking the tough questions, but rather let them sit and fester.
The problem is that the introduction is where the book stops being helpful. It transitions from a book that really could help people sit with the discomfort of experiencing silence from God into a book that truly fulfills the subtitle "what to do when it feels like He's giving you the silent treatment."
Habermas' proposition is that God does not give people the "silent treatment," but rather it is people's perceptions of God and his actions that make it appear like God is silent. While I agree that is often the case, this completely disregards authentic times that God may not be overtly speaking to us, specifically as in a dark night of the soul, in which God tends to be more passive.
Framing this experience as solely due to the individual's error not only invalidates the person's experience, but can make it worse. Therefore, I would not recommend this tome to anyone experiencing a dark night. The closest Habermas gets to describing a God-initiated silence is stating, "God's silence could also be a reprimand or time-out response" (p. 130). This can be true, but still puts blame on the individual in a negative way that is not congruent with a dark night.
Besides the poor framing of the book, the content overall is relatively good. It's just too focused on giving answers rather than really asking questions and struggling with the answers. I completely agree that we often expect God to work in ways that he does not always work. Habermas describes an Incarnational perspective very well, which I appreciate. He also talks about how our past, emotions, and thoughts can cloud our ability to see God at work. That's totally true. This book can be useful for people in those circumstances.
I had a couple of significant frustrations with some of the content, though:
Habermas frequently refers to unanswered prayers. While the Garth Brooks song Unanswered Prayers is one of my favorite songs, it is also one of the songs that annoys me the most. I think the concept of a prayer being unanswered is complete baloney. Yes, that is my theological perspective, but still. The way the term is often used is for prayers that are not answered the way we want them answered. That does not mean there is no answer. It's just a no. Or not yet. That's an answer. Framing it as unanswered leads to more problems than the convenience of using a simple phrase.
Habermas has an entire chapter entitled "What Do You Tell Yourself" that falls squarely in my area of expertise of the cross-roads of psychology and spirituality. His point in this chapter is that at times, "many of your problems have very little to do with God" (p. 108). Again, I agree with this statement. However, I dislike how he handles it.
He basically takes a cognitive therapy perspective about challenging false beliefs. Fair enough. I do that a lot in my blog. However, Habermas puts the whole problem and solution in our thinking. I disagree with this from a psychotherapy perspective and definitely from a spiritual perspective. While our thoughts definitely can cause problems, other elements of our psyche can, too.
He even moves into poor exegesis when he says, "the Bible tells you that you are free not to feel anger, not to hate, and not to return to others what they have given you" (p. 110). While transformation through Christ may make these things more likely, the one I do have major issue with is the freedom from anger. Anger is not bad. God gets angry. We should get angry at times.
In fact, Habermas takes such a strictly cognitive approach that he discounts feelings completely. He cites C.S. Lewis and asserts that "we must tell our emotions to take a hike" (p. 113). This is one of the statements for which I have the least tolerance. While our emotions can cause problems, they are also a blessing. The American church and the American people would do well to pay more attention to their honest and authentic emotions. If we did that, we may actually experience God more and perceive less silence.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Last week, I talked about church as community and described how I felt more connected with others during non-large-group gatherings. Interestingly, the meeting addressed this (not my blog directly, of course...). One of the things said is that church is not just Sunday gatherings (y'all have heard me say that for a while). They really emphasized the importance of small groups and that that is where the community is experienced and built.
However, they also said Sundays are important, but not for community. They framed these gatherings are important for celebration. This is a new way of thinking about such gatherings for me. I really like this balance and think it makes a lot of sense. That helps me find those gatherings as being more valuable when I was getting close to giving up on such gatherings...
What do you think?
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Suicide and Facing Despair. This is an excellent article on suicide, depression, and the church.
Allow For Space In The Music. I just lectured on trauma and the dark night of the soul, and this hits a lot of similar points of my recommendations of validating people's experiences and sitting with the pain. This just says it a lot more eloquently. :)
Who Are the De-Churched (Part 2). A good follow-up to an earlier article. The focus on the problems with a moralistic emphasis makes this read particularly worthwhile.
Going Into Full-Time Ministry. This does a nice job of explaining that ministry is not just formal ministry, like that of a pastor. In fact, everything we do is ministry.
Getting Back to Basics. A nice, short article reminding readers that ARE negotiable elements in theology and that we need to be generous with others.
Monday, April 12, 2010
This is a review I wrote that originally appeared on the Englewood Review of Books made possible by a complimentary copy from Intervarsity Press.
The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith is the second book in his Apprentice Series. The focus of the series is “to draw people into the divine conspiracy of love and transformation” (p. 10). The first book focused on God and the nature of God. This book explores the work of God in our individual lives. The final book, available later this year, emphasizes how to bring all of these lessons and transformations into the larger community.
I personally was excited by this particular entry into the series as my much of my personal and professional passion is in the area of spiritual formation, particularly on the individual level. Smith is also a founding board member of Renovaré, one of my favorite spiritual formation organizations. He also got excellent endorsements from respected people, including one from Dallas Willard, stating this series is “The best practice I have seen in Christian spiritual formation.” I’m not sure I would agree with that statement. I say that primarily because I’m not convinced spiritual formation practice can be fully conveyed in a book. It is a lived-out, incarnational and relational experience.
However, Smith does an excellent job tapping into these elements. He wrote the series with the intention that they would be read in community. He concludes each chapter with strong reflective questions and ways to encourage communities to be able to engage one another in sharing their reflections. This is critically important in the process of spiritual formation, and very few other texts I have seen do such a nice job at encouraging both individual and communal spiritual formation simultaneously.
Additionally, I appreciated how Smith included reflection questions throughout the text itself so the reader could engage as he or she is reading, not just after Smith is done “talking.” Engagement, again, is a very important part of spiritual formation.
The content was solid and useful, being well-grounded biblically, theologically, academically and psychologically. I appreciated that Smith appropriately explained, unpacked, and backed up his challenges to a lot of problematic conventional cultural beliefs. This made his arguments and encouragement toward spiritual formation much more effective. Also, rather than simply condemning problematic beliefs, he labeled them “false narratives.” In the realm of spiritual formation, it is rarely helpful to label things “heretical” because that shuts off conversation. Identifying them as narratives helps to recognize that beliefs and theology are developed through an on-going process.
He also presented them in a way where the reader could engage and reflect, again, critical elements of spiritual formation. The problem in this method is that it focuses primarily on the Contemplative tradition (see Renovaré’s website or Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water for more information on that). There needs to be more balance of the other traditions in this book.
Despite the strengths of the process of the book and the content, this book really is more of an entry-level tome on spiritual formation. I don’t think I read anything particularly new. I often marked pages of things Smith said quite well or with which I agreed. However, I did not feel the content touched me at a deep level or really challenged me. This may be due to reading a lot of spiritual formation materials and frequently engaging in the topics Smith presented.
If you are a looking for an advanced spiritual formation text, go to a book that goes into more depth on specific topics. You’ll be disappointed if you’re well-read in spiritual formation literature and are looking for something new and profound (unless repetition is helpful to you). If you want to introduce people to spiritual formation or explore spiritual formation with a small group, I highly recommend this book. It is very well-written and accessible. Despite my critiques, I very much enjoyed reading it.
Friday, April 9, 2010
I had the same feelings to Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. I have heard many excellent things about it over the past few years, so when I saw the audiobook version for $5 at Family Christian Bookstores, I had to pick it up.
First of all, the narrator, Scott Brick, was very good. He was one of the better professional narrators from the christianaudio imprint. He sounded like the great narrators of many of the bestselling fictional books I've read. Like I've said before, though, I still prefer the author to read it for books like this, particularly when written in the first person.
The content overall was good. Miller does a nice job of presenting a realistic, authentic, experiential faith. He appropriately challenges assumptions American Christianity holds, and I deeply appreciate that. He emphasizes the importance of the journey of faith and not always having the clear-cut answers. As readers of this blog know, I emphasize these points frequently.
However, Miller interestingly got stuck in at times in some fundamentalist-like perspectives, particularly around Scripture. He mentioned friends of his by only saying their first names, but based on the context and other information, I could identify them as some people who have solidly fundamentalist streaks.
These people tend to appear to be hip and challenging the establishment (and they do in many ways), yet they approach Scripture in very literalistic and Calvinistic ways. This came through frequently in Miller's text, and it really distracted from the usefulness of his message.
From other reviews and posts on this blog, people will know I do not hold to a strict, literal interpretation of Scripture nor in strict Calvinistic interpretations. Just as Miller challenges many cultural assumptions of the church, these are cultural assumptions that must be challenged. Yet he holds them up as universally accepted ultimate Truth.
At the same time, many people who hold these values are often not willing to consider challenging their other assumptions. So if Miller earn credibility this way to have people begin to challenge themselves, this could be a blessing in disguise.
Overall, I would recommend the book. Just don't ingest it whole without challenging the thoughts. We shouldn't do this with anything though, anyway...
Thursday, April 8, 2010
I received these mobile Bible study resources as free review copies from Olive Tree Bible Software. I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions I have expressed are my own. The Olive Tree BibleReader program is available free on OliveTree.com and iTunes.
As readers of this blog know, I am a big fan of the NLT Mosaic Bible. As I recently upgraded to the Android operating system, I was eager to try the Mosaic Bible for Android, and I was graciously given the opportunity to review it from Olive Tree (as you can see above).
The content is the same as the excellent paper version, so rather than rehashing it, I'll point you to my review of that version. This review will focus more on the experience of the virtual Mosaic Bible.
People who know me well know I love gadgets and prefer electronic things over paper-based things. I have said many a time, "I hate paper." With those things in mind, I thought I would absolutely flip over the Android version of the Mosaic Bible since I loved the paper version so much. Much to my surprise, I did not like it quite as much. Let me explain.
One of the primary reasons I purchased the Mosaic Bible originally was to have a more experiential interaction with the Bible, focused on more devotional elements. I have plenty of Bibles, so the biblical content was not necessarily something new (although it was my first NLT Bible). The Mosaic Bible did an excellent job of getting me to read the Bible on a daily basis again. I can't say enough how much I like it.
I have used the Android version almost exclusively for a couple of weeks in order to compare it to the paper version. I felt like I lost something experiential in using only the Android version. I'm still not sure what it is, but I'll take some guesses:
1. I would usually read the paper-based version in bed right before I went to sleep. This felt more like I was setting some special time aside and in a special place. In contrast, I don't bring my phone to bed because I don't want it interrupting my sleep (and my charger is in another room). So I would read it at various times throughout the day and in various places. Now, this is definitely a benefit and something I like about the Android version. I will now no longer have to lug the larger paper-based version around, and I'm happy about that. This may be able to fixed by adjusting my reading habits, but one version lends itself to different types of habits.
2. Related to this, reading a paper-based version is exclusive to other phone-based interruptions. I am used to my phone informing me of email, Facebook notifications, Tweets, tasks due, etc. It is a productivity hound. For me, devotional time is best done away from those things. Sure, I could put my phone in airplane mode, but there's an association with the phone that is busyness-related. (I also have not yet been interrupted during my reading by my phone.) On the other hand, learning to have the phone be a calming tool through the use of the Bible could be a benefit...
3. The physical beauty of the Mosaic Bible does not come through as effectively in the virtual model. Yes, the artwork is there. And you can zoom in quite closely so you can still view detail. This is a very nice feature. Beyond that, though, the Bible is largely black text (or red for Jesus' words) on a white background. I think there is something neat about the off-white paper of the devotionals and the traditional tissue-like paper of the Scripture. It's hard to translate that virtually. Also, the little cross accents on various pages are missing in the Android version. It's often the subtle things that make a difference. It appears that the iPhone version includes these elements. It would be nice if they could be on Android, too. I think that would make a huge difference, as that is what is unique about the Mosaic Bible.
4. The Android version can be a clunky to use, particularly compared to the sleekness of many application today. It can take several seconds to start up. If you don't bookmark where you're at or hit "exit" before leaving, you'll start at the beginning of the Bible. When you click on a Bible verse, you have to remember where to stop. In the paper version, there are notes in the margins that will remind you the verses the devotional suggests. It looks like the iPhone accesses the verses in a popup on top of the devotional section. This would solve the problem well.
The Android version is not without strengths and things that makes it better than the paper-based version, though:
1. You can take it anywhere. This is a HUGE strength. I'm all about being mobile and not taking many things with me. I love being able to read it at work or wherever I am if I so desire.
2. It's really easy to get to the suggested Scripture readings. Click a link, and you're there. You don't have to flip through pages to find the verses. Additionally, the Mosaic Bible (as a first edition) has some typos, usually flipping two digits, so it can take a little longer to find some verses occasionally.
3. The theme directory is very nice. I haven't used it yet, but it made me remember that the Mosaic Bible can be used thematically rather than liturgically. If you want to use it thematically, the virtual version is definitely the way to go. It lists all the themes. You click on the one you want, and you're taken there immediately. This is a great feature!
4. Despite the experiential limitations, I am still often drawn to reading the Mosaic Bible on my phone. Perhaps it's my love for electronics and bias toward reading electronic things rather than paper things, but I do reach for the Android version first. Maybe it's that new toy phenomenon... :)
A couple of other points about the virtual version are things I have not used in either version, so they do not really affect me, but they're worth noting.
1. The paper-based version leave white space to be able to write. There are also reflection sections in each devotional where one can respond. These are great additions. In the Olive Tree software, you can add notes. There's a benefit of you don't feel like you're permanently marking up your expensive Bible. :) However, for the Mosaic Bible, I think there's something missing. Also, the devotional texts include the word "Reflection" with no lines or any other prompts to write and reflect on your own. It just looks a little weird.
2. The editors talk about how the Mosaic Bible can be used organically, reading the Scriptures, seeing a reference to a devotional, and then going there. You simply cannot do this with the Android version, as the Scripture does not have references back to the devotionals.
3. The User's Guide should be updated for the virtual version. It's just a copy-and-pasted version of the paper-based Mosaic Bible's User's Guide. It references page numbers and being able to sketch on the paper. This could be hard to do... :)
I really like the Android version. Ultimately, choosing between the virtual and paper-based versions will depend on what you want and how you'll use it. The virtual version is cheaper, but in today's time where people struggle to pay for anything virtual (me included), $18 seems rather steep. I would probably be disappointed paying that if I had purchased the app. I would actually like to see an option for the paper and virtual versions to be bundled together, with the latter either being free or for a significantly reduced amount. That would make it very much worth it.
I have to say I'm very happy to have the Android version, although I also did not have to pay for it. I will continue to use it regularly, although I miss the experiential elements of the paper version.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Well, look around, it doesn't work like that. Nor is it supposed to. Marriage is a partnership. A beautiful one, at that. However, it is not meant to satisfy all needs and definitely not all the time. One person simply cannot do that. We need community. We need other people to satisfy some needs. And that is not only okay, it is good.
I realized I have approached church organizations similarly. I expect the church (little "c" meaning the local organizations, big "C" meaning the universal Church body) to meet all my spiritual needs. Why would or could any human organization do that? Just as our life partners are not perfect, the church is imperfect.
It will meet many needs, but there will be areas where it is not a good match. And that is not only okay, but it is good. It is an opportunity for the church to push and challenge us and for us to push and challenge the church. My only hope is for the churches to be open to being pushed and challenged. This process is the key.
We also need to connect with the larger Church outside of our smaller church. This is another good reason for the churches to be imperfect. It leads us to connect to others. This allows for a cross-fertilization of ideas and worship. We need friends outside of our churches. This, too, will help push and challenge us as we also push and challenge others.
As is the purpose of this blog, that process will lead us closer and closer to Christ and Truth. It can be tiring. I can admit I long for a church in which I fit perfectly. It hasn't happened yet. It probably never will. And that's probably a good thing...
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
One of the things I knew but has been re-emphasized is that Sunday morning really is not all that important. True, the group worship "service" (I hate that word to describe the gatherings, though I use it myself--we are not "servicing" people or God--we are gathering to worship and commune) is important for bringing groups of Christians together. Without those gatherings, it is hard to join a new community.
However, beyond that, they're really becoming more of an obligation to me. I think this is because in most communities, this time is all focused on teaching, on information. I miss the worship, the communing with God, the experiential piece. Sure, there's music. Sure, there's prayer. That's not necessarily worship.
In fact, my wife and I have missed several weeks of Sunday gatherings. We sometimes will watch it online, but honestly, we don't feel like we miss much by missing. The announcements are the biggest thing we miss, and we can get those online.
Interestingly, a few weeks ago, we were late, so we sat in the Family Lounge so as not to enter the main sanctuary and interrupt anyone. There were only two other families there, and we had to watch the whole gathering on a TV screen (what's the difference between that and watching from home? I don't like going someplace only to watch a talking head on a screen.). However, it was probably my favorite Sunday yet. Why? Because it felt more like community as we smiled at the babies and their parents and actually felt like there was a connection between those around us. In contrast, on "normal" Sundays, when we go to the main sanctuary, I feel like I'm at the movie theater or a concert. I feel no connection to anyone else around me.
Community is important. THAT is the point of the large gatherings. Yet we suck at it.
That is why small group IS so important to us. I hate missing one. THAT feels more like church than anything else. As many people before me have said, that IS church because we ARE the church. We need to remember that. That living together and sharing each others' lives is so much more important than learning a nice lesson on a Scripture passage that you will forget an hour later.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Well, after a busy couple of weeks, I'm hoping to be back to regular posting. Starting us off are some interesting articles from the last week:
Don't Forget to Grieve. This should be a must-read for all Christians. The importance of grief is sooo important. This is timely not only with Good Friday, but with finding out my friend's daughter died this week. Grief happens. And if we don't acknowledge it, bad things happen, including being numb from God's love.
Narrative or Doctrine-What Should You Teach? A really nice exploration into both narrative and doctrine.
Resurrection, Inc. How sad is it that people have to be bribed to go to church. Sadder still that we actually bribe people! What good does that do? A butt in the seat is not necessarily a blessing. It just makes us feel good. And I'm not convinced of that, do whatever it takes to get someone in so they hear the Word. They have to actually listen to hear. And bribing does not usually help someone listen. This reminds me more of the temple courtyard merchants that Jesus drove away than true lovers of Jesus...
Christ is Risen! A really cool virtual choir. You have to see it to know what I'm talking about.