Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Choose Superheroes

As some of you may have seen, the (in)famous Westboro Baptist Church made an appearance at Comic-Con. I still don't understand who God hated at Comic-Con that would make them make such a trek (hopefully not Trekkers :) ).

If you look at the pictures in the article, you'll first see the counter-protest (very clever, by the way, and I would have loved to participate, so you can see which side I land on here). But just a little ways down, you can see some of the signs the church members hold.

Some examples:
God hates America

Antichrist Obama
You're going to Hell

You hate God
God is your enemy
And my personal favorite: God hates you

Not only do I believe these are completely unbiblical statements, I also don't see how they are helpful in any sense of the word. Even if they were all true, how does making glaring signs of these statements make ANY change?

Many of us do have signs, bumper stickers, license plate frames, posters, etc. with more accepted sayings, often with the hope of changing someone's life or bringing them to Christ.

When was the last time you were transformed by a sign?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

God Told Me To Review @GodMadeMeDoIt

A couple of months ago, I shared about a book I found (er, God led me to) that told of the wondrous things He tells people to do. After being given the revelation of the existence of this tome, God then told me to review it. God told the author and his publicist to grant me a review copy. And so today you get a review.

Marc Hartzman does a much better job at humor than I do in God Made Me Do It. The premise is summarized in the subtitle: "True stories of the worst advice the Lord has ever given his followers." In 1-2 page vignettes, Hartzman summarizes tales of times people have used God as an excuse to do a variety of things. The book is a sort of Darwin Awards of God's advice.

As a Christian, I don't think God actually told people to do these things. As I'm sure Hartzman was well aware, I bet some people could be offended by his sarcasm. He does include some high-profile people in his work (particularly from the prosperity gospel tradition).

However, I saw nothing blasphemous in this book. In contrast, I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it if you enjoy this kind of humor. I would suggest reading only a few stories at a time, though. I read many more than that at one point, and they stopped being as entertaining, so I think they're more effective on the humor side in the short-term.

My reaction to reading more at once may be telling of another, perhaps unintended message of this book: I kept thinking, "This is really sad." In fact, it is sad how much we, as a society, use God to explain things we want. And how much we accept that from others without really challenging those comments. Granted, it's hard to challenge.

But perhaps this book is not just useful for its humor: Perhaps it can remind us that we really need to get back to truly listening to God and knowing what he will and will not say. I guess that is a function of humor--it lets us look at something with a fresh eye with less defensiveness involved.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Evangelical Representative @OutOfUr

Last week, John Ortberg penned an article on the Out of Ur blog (which I highly recommend, by the way), entitled, "Who Speak For Evangelicals?" He describes how evangelicalism has become increasingly divided, so there is no central voice that can be identified as THE voice of evangelicalism.

He points out many of the problems that can occur with the lack of clear leadership, particularly in contrast to the Pope and Catholicism (there's no doubt who has the final word). And I agree, this can cause some confusion.

However, I think the benefits of no clear spokesman outweigh any disadvantages. This is coming, though, from someone who is not a particular fan of authority and being told what to do. Particularly in the realm of spirituality, though, I believe it is important to have autonomy and to be able to be identified independently of any denomination, movement, church, or even religion.

When we insist on putting others in boxes (or putting ourselves in a box), we lose the richness of the intellectual diversity God granted all of us. And we also lose the sight of the fact that none of us will ever get all of theology correct. As we continue to institutionalize faith more, the organicity that brings life to faith is lost. And we lose the ability to speak freely (as discussed in yesterday's post), leading to hiding and shame.

I don't want someone to speak for me. I want to speak for me. What about you?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Permission to Speak Freely @speakfreelybook @flowerdust @christianaudio @caReviewers

This last week I had the privilege to listen to an audiobook version of the soon-to-be-released Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson courtesy of a complimentary copy from christianaudio's reviewers program.

The basic idea intrigued me: Jackson asked on her blog, "What is one thing you feel you can't say in church?" The book is an outgrowth of the responses she received from that and her own experiences.

This is definitely one of the absolute best books I have reviewed for christianaudio. It is also one of the best nonfiction Christian books I have ever read (or listened to). It very much coincides with the mission of this blog of encouraging people to be honest and authentic about their struggles and having the permission to speak freely about difficult matters.

Jackson does a beautiful job of describing the problem of restricted dialogue, not only in the institutional church, but also throughout society. It causes more damage than good.

The way she humanizes the struggles is phenomenal. It is the first book in a very long time that has brought tears to my eyes, not only from sadness of the pain we all cause others, but also because of the hope she reminds readers/listeners of.

Through her commentary on the core of problems that take our attention (like addictions to substances and sex), she also helped me remember why I entered the field of psychology and not give into the push to focus on symptom management. It reminded me to take a wider and deeper perspective with myself and others.

She states at the end of the book that she cannot give some nice, easy steps to solve the problems like most self-help books do. While it's true she does not provide a formula (which would have ruined the book), she did provide a solution: Relationships. Honest, authentic relationships where people can engage one another, challenge one another, and grow IS the solution.

It's not easy. And it takes a lot of courage. I loved her recognition of this in discussing giving the gift of going second (if you want to know more, read or listen to the book! :) ). If we can use this courage, though, the results are astounding.

However, we still have work on developing a culture, both inside and outside of the institutional church, where we can give people the permission to speak freely about anything. The church building should be a safe place, a sanctuary, where people can openly struggle. Instead, it's often turned into the exact opposite.

On a final note, I also love the fact that Jackson read the book herself. As I have said before, I prefer books read by the author, even if they are not all that polished. This book is intensely personal on many levels. It would have definitely lost some significant meaning if a professional narrator was hired.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Type 1 and 2 Miracles

Following-up on last week's post on miracles, there was another BioLogos post on miracles, describing what they term as Type 1 and Type 2 miracles. The former is "providential timing," meaning all the things work out perfectly together. The latter is more of the type that violates nature (the more obvious miracles).

This may be a good way of working with the debates people have over how to define a miracle. My guess is that most of us probably do agree, but as a friend said in the comments of my original, it can be about semantics.

I do believe we have to be careful about relegating all miracles to only what God can obviously do, though, because then we can fall into the idea of the "God of the gaps," where God only does what science cannot explain. And that gap gets smaller and smaller everyday.

I fully believe God works through science and in ways that we can "explain away" fairly easily. And that's the beauty of his work.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Atheistic Anxiety

Last week, I discussed the role of anxiety in religious thought, including an article showing that anxiety can lead to more religious extremism. Interestingly, a similar phenomenon seems to occur in atheism. We shouldn't be surprised about this, as I believe atheism is still a religion, just without a deity.

One of the more interesting points in this (in my opinion) is that it is people with overtly confident personalities that tend to become more zealous. "Meek" personalities tend to become "paranoid, credulous, and superstitious."

I think these kinds of things make sense because they seem to relate to the psychological idea of locus of control: Internal being I have control of my world, while External is I have no control over my world. If I have no control, I'll probably be meeker and more paranoid.

What do you think?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Women and the Church

Gender identity and social roles has not been something I have been particularly passionate about. Gender definitely plays a role in society, but for me, my maleness does not (at least consciously) play a major role in my personal identity (other things are much more important).

However, recently, I have noticed that I have been feeling more passionate about advocating for women in the institutional church.

There are many ways this is presented. At a basic level, the language we use in our Bible translations can make a big difference. I'm definitely supportive of the gender-inclusive language because I believe it is a more accurate translation of the meaning. And I believe the meaning to be the most important, as I do not take a literal interpretation most of the time.

Further, this type of translation is important because not only can our translations be archaic, but the way the original authors understood things may not be the way God understands things.

In any case, the area I have been having the most frustration is women's titles and leadership. J.R. Daniel Kirk presented a very nice post on women's silence in the Bible and how that does not mean they should not be pastors or leaders in the institutional churches. In many of the organizations I've been in, particularly religiously, women are the most motivated and wisest.

So why do we insist that men are the heads of household, spiritual leaders, and the only ones who can be pastors? Not all communities do assert this, but many do, even if that's not what practically happens because they have better women than men...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Marital Problems

I have posted several times about marriage and how we have a romanticized perspective of it. Science and Religion Today hosted a challenging (and I would argue controversial) post on considering if we should change our expectations about spousal sexual faithfulness. The author argues that by loosening the reigns on sexual fidelity, relational faithfulness can increase. He states:
But even as we allow for less fidelity, we may find our relationships enriched with greater faithfulness. When an occasional casual sexual adventure is no longer an existential threat to a marriage, it may become something partners can choose to share openly with each other, thereby increasing their own sense of intimacy and trust.
I'm not sure I buy it, but it's interesting to ponder, especially if we take the same process of managing anxiety to increase religious faith. Perhaps what we need to do is not necessarily lower our sexual standards, but put less emphasis on them so we are less anxious about them.

The same blog also summarized another study that found divorce clusters in social networks. Does that mean divorce is contagious? Or socially more acceptable when there are other divorcees? Or perhaps there is a lack of relational health in groups. It will be interesting if other pick up these findings and explore the possible causes more.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Miracles can be a very controversial thing. Sometimes they are viewed as violations of the laws of nature. Sometimes they are viewed as things of awe. I think both can be true, but I tend to take a more Incarnational perspective that is more congruent with the latter: Where the actions can be explained scientifically, but are still quite amazing. Why can't God work through that? I think he does, as does a BioLogos writer.

Science and Religion Today also recently posted about a book about miracle cures. It brings up some very interesting points about the sociology of miracle cures. In short, miracle cures were not necessarily created by a violation of nature, but rather due to very natural experiences. Does that make them any less miraculous?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Anxiety of Scriptural Interpretation

Related to yesterday's post on doubt and certainty, one of the biggest areas I see the certainty as a coping mechanism for religious anxiety is in the interpretation of Scripture. This has literally led to wars and murder. This reminds me again of Brink's quote that closed yesterday's post with that the best defense of faith is displaying love...

This is a humorous video that emphasizes how biblical interpretation and theological nuances can become rather extreme and the basis for conflict. This is another humor post that has a very short summary of each book of the Bible.

On a more serious note, BioLogos often addresses biblical interpretation, particularly regarding Genesis 1 and 2, which I personally think get way too much emphasis put on them in this regard. In any case, this is a nice post exploring literary versus literal interpretations of these chapters. I appreciate how BioLogos emphasizes that even literary interpretations do not reduce people's faith and worship of the Lord...

I also like this post, part of a series on interpretation after inerrancy. The author does a nice job summarizing how non-inerrant views were actually held by some of the most respected Church leaders over time.

And then there's the age-old (or 2000-year-old) fights about the God of the Old Testament and New Testament and the various ways of interpreting the texts to reconcile the two. Keith Giles wrote a very interesting post on this topic.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Anxiety of Doubt

One of the central purposes of this blog is to help people deal with doubt and the anxiety that goes along with that in a constructive, faith-building way.

This article summarizes a York University study exploring how anxiety can lead to religious extremism. I can believe that. From a psychological perspective, when we are anxious, we tend to often take more solid, definable views. That, by its nature, reduces anxiety because it reduce the ambiguity and the unknown.

If anxiety on its own can lead to religious extremism, then faith-related anxiety can definitely lead to more extreme views that happen to be self-soothing because they leave less room for error. This emphasizes the importance of being about to more positively manage and cope with religious anxiety.

In fact, we should embrace that anxiety. BioLogos hosted a nice post on this matter, discusses how doubt can lead to a deepening of one's faith through challenging our social constructions of God that prevent us from having a true relationship with the real, authentic God. This echoes Tillich's quote from The Courage to Be that is the motto of this blog: "The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt."

Jonathan Brink also wrote a nice post on the idea of certainty and how defending certainty rarely works out for good. While it is important to be certain of some things, the best thing we can do is love others. I particularly love his quote, "The truest defense of the faith is not a defense of the faith but the act of love."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Proof-Text Poker

I've been having trouble keeping up my blogging as my wife and I have been house hunting among other things (there's always excuses, huh?). But there's a lot of good stuff I've read I'm hoping to share.

This was a particularly good devotional taken from Eldredge's The Sacred Romance. I love the emphasis on the drama of life and that being a more appropriate way of approaching the Bible. Much better than "proof-text poker," as Eldredge so beautifully describes the way we often approaching biblical interpretation.

What do you think?

Ransomed Heart
Ransomed Heart

Saturday, July 03, 2010

A "Propositional" Christianity

We have lived for so long with a "propositional" approach to Christianity, we have nearly lost its true meaning. As Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen says,

Much of it hinges on your view of scripture. Are you playing proof-text poker with Genesis plus the Gospels and Paul's epistles, with everything else just sort of a big mystery in between-except maybe Psalms and Proverbs, which you use devotionally? Or do you see scripture as being a cosmic drama-creation, fall, redemption, future hope-dramatic narratives that you can apply to all areas of life? (Prism interview)

For centuries prior to our Modern Era, the church viewed the gospel as a Romance, a cosmic drama whose themes permeated our own stories and drew together all the random scenes in a redemptive wholeness. But our rationalistic approach to life, which has dominated Western culture for hundreds of years, has stripped us of that, leaving a faith that is barely more than mere fact-telling. Modern evangelicalism reads like an IRS 1040 form: It's true, all the data is there, but it doesn't take your breath away. As British theologian Alister McGrath warns, the Bible is not primarily a doctrinal sourcebook: "To reduce revelation to principles or concepts is to suppress the element of mystery, holiness and wonder to God's self-disclosure. 'First principles' may enlighten and inform; they do not force us to our knees in reverence and awe, as with Moses at the burning bush, or the disciples in the presence of the risen Christ" (A Passion for Truth).

(The Sacred Romance , 45)

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