Friday, February 29, 2008

Boyd, Claiborne, and Colson.

Greg Boyd has a great post about a panel discussion he took part in recently with Shane Claiborne and Chuck Colson. I can't wait to hear it! Greg has some great insights about the conversation that you should definitely check out.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ben Stein is Expelled

Have you guys seen this? It's a trailer for Ben Stein's new documentary on Evolution. Considering how much the topic comes up on here, I thought it might be good to get your reactions.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Christianity Worth Believing

Doug Pagitt was nice enough to give me an advance copy of his forthcoming book called A Christianity Worth Believing (due out in May). I finished reading it and I thought I would offer some thoughts.

First, a disclaimer: DO NOT READ THIS BOOK IF YOU ARE NARROW. As is normal in emergent writing, Doug challenges some "sacred cows" that will really make fundamentalists mad. If that is you, if you can't handle controversy, if you can't handle wrestling with new ideas, ideas different than your own, if you think you have God figured out, do not read this book.

To Everyone else, I think it is a terrific book.

One of the main themes in the book is something that I had been thinking about for about a year. I heard a speaker talking about Islam say, "Islam is essentially 7th century Arabian culture put into the form of a religion." Now, I realize that is overly simplistic, but it makes a good point. It explains a lot of the details of the religion, the suppression of women, the outfits etc. Now, my thinking led me to this thought: We would be naive to think that culture has not been codified in the Bible. And, in fact, much culture is in the Bible, and at least some of what the Bible says we take as culture and no more. From the brutality of the Old Testament Law to Paul telling women not to wear jewelry, we all agree that there are elements of culture in scripture that we don't take as "absolute truth" or even as theology, but as the innerworkings of a culture that is thousands of years old and very different from ours. There is another ring of this reality where i would say most of us agree, but not all, namely the roles of women (i.e. Paul writing to Timothy). Many (perhaps most) of us take these statements to be cultural demands, not truth once and for all.

My questioning in the last year led me to think of just how much of our New Testament is culture, specifically tailored for the first century, and how much is true once and for all? One of Doug's main themes in the book deals with this very issue. More pointedly, Doug looks into the Greek influences, not so much in scripture, but in the first few centuries when our primary creeds, theologies, and beliefs about God were being formed.

For example, Doug eventually arrives at this question:

Is it necessary to convert to a particular worldview in order to hold the Christian faith? Or in this case, does a person have to be a fifth - century Augustinian in order to be a follower of Jesus? The answer, of course, is no...I believe that it is the tradition of our faith to constantly renew, rethink, and reformulate our ideas about what it means to follow God.
pg 49

And also, about those who worry about the faith being distorted over time,

Maybe they worry that the essentials will be lost over time and we will one day be left with a distorted, watered - down story that bears no resemblance to the one with which we started. But I think we have the opposite problem. The issue Christianity faces today is not that the stories are watered down; it's that they've been set in stone — often leading to the very distortion we fear.
pg 31

The first eight chapters or so are Doug sharing personal stories from his own conversion as well as a critique of modern Christianity (it is more than that, but I'm being general). The rest of the book presents new ways of looking at some age old thinking in the Christian movement. Doug challenges long held metaphors and offers some new ones on topics like sin, humanity, the Bible and others. Here are a few snapshots of what he says about different topics.

On church and state:
History has proved the idea of a state religion to be a rather troubling development in the Christian story — the institutionalization and coercion that come with empire are not really compatible with the gospel message.
pg 43

On the dangers of using the Bible as a weapon:
So much of what I've come to believe about God and humanity and Jesus and the way we are to live comes from the Bible. For me, it is a living thing. It is a member of my community and a vital source of wisdom and truth. But it's rarely used that way. Which is why I often cringe when I hear someone getting ready to use the Bible.

In my years of being a Christian, I have witnessed the most brutal fights over the Bible. I know families where some members no longer speak to one another because of disagreements over the Bible. I have heard stories of people losing their jobs because they disagree with someone about a biblical principle. Entire denominations have split over disagreements about the “proper” interpretation of the Bible. I have witnessed people saying and doing heinous things with the justification that the Bible made them do it.
pg 54

And on rethinking sin:
Sin isn't a legal problem with God; it's a relationship problem with us. In the garden, Adam and Eve were perfectly integrated with God. But when they ate from the tree, they acted outside their partnership with God and began to experience the disintegration of their relationship with God. And that's what sin is — disintegration. We were created for integration, partnering, connection with God. Sin irritates; it destabilizes. It causes us to come unraveled from the life we have with God.
pg 159

Even if you disagreed with every point he makes, it is at the very least a healthy walkthrough for rethinking some key elements of the Christian faith, which is always good. He is a great thinker and a great story teller. If you want Doug's take on rethinking some of the elements of Christianity and his vision for the Jesus story played out in today's world to challenge and inspire you, I doubt you will be disappointed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

6 Questions Emerging Christians are Asking

Scot McKnight was a part of a panel at a conference recently talking about emerging Christians. Scot has come up with a list of the six most common questions (or types of questions) that Emerging Christians are Asking.

I have done my best to transcribe quotes from Scot's talk to make the point. There isn't much there, but he went over this pretty quickly. You can find the whole panel discussion on the Emergent Village podcast in 2 parts called the 2007 AARP Panel (it is about 38 minutes into part 1).

Also, one more note I should make. Scot told a lead in story where he used a "Blue Parakete" as a metaphor for emerging Christians, which in the story is basically saying that they are weird to the traditional (meaning both evangelical and mainline) church. When that term is used, that is what he is referring to. Scot is coming out with a book soon by the same name.

6 Questions Emerging Christians are Asking (that the traditional church doesn't want to hear)

1. What kind of truth can be found in scripture

"The authors of the Bible are real human beings with real human vocabularies and that they're not all American-speaking, NIV-writing type people. That they learn Paul had his opinions, and the writer of Hebrews."

"And so they're begining to ask questions about scripture that an older generation thought it had answered and knew that it had final answers an that everyone would conform to these answers, and those who didn't were blue paraketes and would just squak on there own somewhere else. I think they're asking fair questions about scripture."

2. If Evolution isn't true, I would like to ask God why he made a world that looks so much like evolution?

"This is a generation that isn't even attracted to questions proving that Genesis 1-11 is historical record. They don't care about creation science. They believe in evolution and that's just the way it is and they want to be Christians and believe in these things."

3. Questions about Christians, and the kind of behavior Christians show

"They grew up with the scandals of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker and the priests."

"They just don't trust institutional leaders in Christian churches."

"If Paul says those who are in Christ are a new creation, why are there so many old creatures in the church? Why is this going on? And they are scandalized by some of the behaviors of Christians."

4. Questions about Hell

"Scot, my evangelical pastor tells me that people who haven't heard the gospel are going to hell. Is he really telling me that everybody in North Korea who never has a chance to hear the gospel is going to Hell? I just don't believe that's true."

"This question is not going away. This is not a questions that evangelicals and orthodox Christians can simply give a traditional answer and get by with it anymore."

5. Moral Questions

The shift is from asking historical questions about contradictions between Chronicles and Kings or were there three Isaiah's to asking why was Jephthah in the Bible and then why was he valorized in Hebrews 11? What about the rapes and sexual abuse in the Bible?

Scot says, "I find these questions far more penetrating than those old historical questions."

6. Social Location

"There is social location to everything we talk about, the language we talk about, the theology we shape, the way we talk about the gospel, the wqy we preach the gospel, the way we respond to the gospel. These things are socially located. And I find emerging Christians not only admitting that and humbling themselves, they develop a chastened epistemology because of it, but they delight in it."

"They are not seeking a universal theology, but they are willing to live with a theology for the midwest, or the east coast, or that sort of thing."

He concludes by saying:

"I think the church needs to [preach] that these people are okay. Church is a great place for questions, rather than a place that should kick people out who have really good, deconstructive, at times, questions."

Thoughts? Have you been asking questions like these or heard them asked? I think that is one foundational element of the Emerging Christians, that they have questions about all kinds of things the last generation of Christians thought they had settled and never questioned. In fact, that generation is often uncomfortable with questions like these.

Your reactions?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Who Should you Vote for?

Have you guys seen this neat little tool? It is a 10 question survey about issues in the upcoming election, and it will tell you who you should vote for based on your responses and how the candidates agree with you. Interesting huh?

I tried it and confirmed I was supporting the right candidate based on my answers.

Did yours match up? What question would you add?

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 13

Well, we have come to the end of our series on Myth... and I hope you have enjoyed it. I hope this series is not an end, but that I inspired you to read the book, listen to the sermon series, or, at the very least, to continue to think on these matters. I hope to do an interview with Greg about this to post at some point, so there may be more coming (if you have a question you'd like me to ask him, fire it my way!).

As we close this out, though, I want to make a few statements that I think are the primary contributions of this book.

1. It encourages us to act like Jesus

Greg continually points back to Jesus as the example. He is not encouraging us to act Republican, or Democrat, but to act like Jesus. Greg does a great job of majoring on the main thing.

2. It challenges some long standing myths about America and Christianity

Perhaps most obvious, and the reason the book sold so many copies, Greg takes on some "sacred cows" that American Evangelicals have. Unfortunately, we live in a world where even asking some of the questions he asks is cause for some to write him off as a liberal from the start. What a shame. He has some great things to say that challenge us all on and to commit the sin of lumping him into a group and judging him prematurely is unfortunate.

3. It challenges the moralistic judging that has become commonplace among evangelicals

More to the point, Greg challenges the moralization of the world that is so typical of Evangelical Christians. As I said in the review, I think that is one of the best points he makes.

4. It challenges the idea that "(insert political stance/candidate here) is the Christian stance/candidate."

Greg challenges the idea that a specific candidate or view is "the Christian" candidate or view. Or worse still, the idea that to not vote a certain way makes one not a Christian. So many people need to hear that.

5. It creates discussion

Lastly, and I think this is one of the main features of any good book, it make you think and creates discussion. If we can continue to have meaningful conversations on topics that matter, we go far in growing in maturity.

Thanks for staying tuned. I realize I stayed on this topic for a long time, but I only do that when I think a book is so good it needs it. This was such a book. Send me in some questions for Greg!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 12

The last chapter of Myth... is Greg simply responding to the 5 most common questions he gets in response to these ideas. Bob over at Vanguard Church has done such a great job of capsulizing Greg's answers by compiling quotes that I'm choosing to completely steal his work. The quoted sections below are completely Bob's (and Greg's) genius and not my own.

Before we do that, though, I should offer Greg's disclaimer. Greg ends the book by acknowledging there is always going to be ambiguity and disagreement in this life. "The goal of this book has not been to provide the 'right' answer to ambiguous ethical questions but to help kingdom people appreciate the urgency of preserving the unique kingdom-of-God perspective on all questions and on life as a whole...What follows is my own wrestling with five of the questions I have most frequently been asked whenever I've publicly presented the perspective articulated in this book." (pg 162)

As with anything, even if we can agree on the broad perspectives, the specifics are where the waters can get murky. So, take the following as Greg's perspective and with a grain of salt. Though it may not be clear from the wuotes below, the larger context of this chapter shows that Greg is still wrestling with these issues himself. For the record, I think that is great. I don't want to listen to someone who isn't still wrestling, who think he (or she) has it all figured out, who had God in their little box. Here we go.

1. What about self-defense?

(A Kingdom person) would have cultivated a kind of character and wisdom that wouldn’t automatically default to self-protective violence. Because he would genuinely love his enemy, he would have the desire to look for, and the wisdom to see, any nonviolent alternative to stopping his family’s attacker if one was available. He would want to do good to his attacker.

2. What about Christians in the military?

Do you know—can you know—the myriad of personal, social, political, and historical factors that have led to any particular conflict and that bear upon whether or not it (the war) is justified?...Out of their cultural conditioning, most blindly assume their authorities are trustworthy, that their cause is justified, and that each person they are told to kill is a justified killing…So, while I respect the sincerity and courage of Christians who may disagree and feel it their duty to defend their country with violence, I honestly see no way to condone a Christian’s decision to kill on behalf of any country—or for any other reason.

3. Haven’t some wars resulted in good things?

While military victories tend to be celebrated, nonviolent victories seem to pass without notice. Most knew about Gandhi and Martin Luther king Jr., but the nonviolent revolutions that ended various unjust dictatorships and brought increased freedom for more than three million people in the twentieth century are hardly ever discussed. Consequently, we are conditioned to think violence is the only viable approach to resolving conflict…(As kingdom people), we are called to show by our life that, while violence sometimes brings about positive results, violence is never inevitable—if only kingdom people will live out their unique kingdom call.

4. Don’t your ideas lead to passivity?

We now find ourselves in a version of Christianity where protecting ourselves is one of the main things we stand for—“in Jesus’ name”! In the name of the one who surrendered his rights and died for sinners, we fight against sinners for our rights!...Our call is to simply live in sacrificial love and trust the sovereign God will use our love to further his kingdom, as he did with the love of Jesus expressed to us and all people on Calvary.

5. Don’t we best serve the oppressed by overthrowing their oppressors?

The kingdom person is to remember that it’s still a ‘Good Friday’ world. We are to have faith that things will look different when Easter morning arrives. The ultimate hope of the world is not found in achieving victory now. The ultimate hope of the world is the resurrection, when all things shall be reconciled to God (Col. 1:20). Then we will see that no act of kingdom love has ever been wasted.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 11

Chapter 8 of Myth... is called "One Nation Under God?" and it talks about the fifth negative consequence of believing that America is a Christian nation, that "it inclines kingdom people to view America as a theocracy, like Old Testament Israel."

The chapter is devoted to debunking this idea, and I won't get into all of it here. But, I will offer a few quotes that allow Boyd to state his point.

Undoubtedly, part of the reason evangelicals accept this claim [that America is a theocracy] is the fact that fallen humans have always tended to fuse religious and nationalistic and tribal interests. We want to believe that God is on our side, supports our causes, protects our interests, and ensures our victories--which, in one form or another, is precisely what most of our nationalistic enemies also believe. So it has been for most people throughout history.

[T]here is no reason to believe America ever was a theocracy. Unlike Israel, we have no biblical or empirical reason to believe God ever intended to be king over America in any unique sense

God’s theocratic program in the Old Testament was temporary, conditional—and ultimately abandoned…While God is by no means through with Israel, he is no longer using them or any other nation to grow his kingdom on the earth. The kingdom is now growing through Jesus Christ who lives in and through his corporate body. In this sense, Jesus and the church constitute the new Israel…comprised of people from every tribe, every tongue, and every nation (Rev. 5:9; 7:9; 21:24-26)…Manifesting this divisionless ‘new humanity’ (Eph. 2:14) lies at the heart of the kingdom commission.

There is only one chapter left, in which Boyd responds to common questions and objections. We will look at that next time.

Barna on the 2008 Election

Is the tide of votes among "born again" Christians in America turing toward liberal? George Barna and his "peeps" seem to think so.

In the most recent Barna Update, polls show that if the election was today, born again Christians would favor the Democratic nominee (whoever that would be) 40% to 29% with 28% undecided. This is a shift over previous Presidential Elections, fluctuating from 39% to 35% in favor of the GOP in 1992 to a lopsided 62% to 38% in favor of the GOP in 2004.

What is perhaps more surprising is that 20% support Hilary Clinton to Obama's 18 and Huckabee's 12%. Does that surprise anyone else? "Born agains" favor Hilary over Huckabee almost 2 to 1!

When the field is narrowed to "Evangelicals," the results tend to be more conservative, like you (by that I mean "I") would expect, but the results are still quite different from past years. 40% of Evangelicals say they would support the GOP candidate, while only 11% already plan to vote Republican. The interesting part is that 40% are still undecided. As a comparison, 85% of Evangelicals voted Republican in 2004.

To define the terms better, here is how Barna defines the labels "born again" and "evangelical."

"Born again Christians" are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents are not asked to describe themselves as "born again."

"Evangelicals" meet the born again criteria (described above) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as "evangelical."

Assuming this information is valid (which it appears we have little reason to doubt it), here are a few of my observations/questions:

1. How much of this apparent shift is due to a change in substance, versus wanting "a change in scenery" from having a the same Republican in office for 8 years? For example, 2000 "felt" like a Republican year after 8 years of Clinton. 2008 "feels" like a Democratic year after 8 years of Bush. In short, is this trend long term or short term, a shift or a phase?

2. Are the steroetypes about Evangelicals being Republicans breaking down?

3. Why do "born agains" support Hilary over Obama?

4. How much of the apparent shift has to do with lack of "success" in Iraq? (i.e. if the war had gone differently, how might the numbers be different?)

5. In the future, will we look back at 2004 as the height of the political power of Evangelical Christians?

Your thoughts?

(Hat tip to

Friday, February 08, 2008

Sexual Sin vs Injustice, Part 2

The only kinds of sin we want to focus on as modern Christians are the isolated individual sins committed by isolated individual monads: lying, having an abortion, indulging in pornography, taking drugs, saying naughty words. Not to minimize those things in any way, but that is far short of a fully biblical understanding of sin, and it leads to dangerous truncations of justice and compassion.

Brian McLaren in A New Kind of Christian

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Myth of a Christian Nation, Part 10

In chapter 7 of Myth..., Greg offers two hot topic examples of evangelical Christians in America being the "moral police" or "moral guardians" and some very interesting commentary on these issues as well.

1. Homosexual Marriage

To illustrate, more than a few have noticed the comic irony in the fact that the group most vocal about "the sanctity of marriage," namely evangelical Christians, happens to be the group with the highest number of divorces in the United States, which itself has the highest divorce rate in the world [cites 2 articles, in addition to Barna]. Numerous explanations have been offered by Christians to minimize this embarrassment, but none of them are convincing--or even relevant. Whatever our excuses, outsiders legitimately wonder, "If evangelicals want to enforce by law 'the sanctity of marriage,' why don't they try to outlaw divorce and remarriage? Better yet, why don't they stop worrying about laws to regulate others' behavior and spend their time and energy sanctifying their own marriages?

Do evangelicals fear gay marriage in particular because the Bible is much more clear about the wrongfulness of gay marriage than it is about the wrongfulness of divorce and remarriage? No, for the Bible actually says a good deal more against divorce and remarriage than it does against monogamous gay relationships. Do they go after this particular sin because the research shows that gay marriage is more damaging to society than divorce and remarriage? It seems not, for while one might grant that neither is ideal, there's no clear evidence that the former is socially more harmful than the latter--especially given the fact that divorce and remarriage is far more widespread than gay marriage. But in any case, this point is completely irrelevant since the present issue isn't over gay unions. The issue is only over whether these unions should be called "marriages." To the best of my knowledge, no one has shown that the social welfare of our nation is significantly harmed by what monogamous gay unions are called.

He continues, with biting sarcasm:

We evangelicals may be divorced and remarried several times; we may be as greedy and as unconcerned about the poor and as gluttonous as others in our culture; we may be as prone to gossip and slander and as blindly prejudiced as others in our culture; we may be more self-righteous and as rude as others in our culture--we may even lack love more than others in the culture. These sins are among the most frequently mentioned sins in the Bible. But at least we're not gay!

I want to continue to capture his words on this point, so here is his summary and analysis.

Tragically, the self-serving and hypocritical nature of this moral posturing is apparent to nearly everyone--except those who do the posturing. And just as tragically, it causes multitudes to want nothing to do with the good news we have to offer. While the church was supposed to be the central means by which people became convinced that Jesus is for real, activity like this has made the church into the central reason many are convinced he's not for real. If I had ten dollars for every time I've encountered someone who resisted submitting to Christ simply because they "can't stand Christians," I'd have a fairly robust bank account.

There's nothing beautiful or attractive about thus sort of self-serving, hypocritical behavior. The beauty of the cross and the magnetic quality of Calvary-quality love has been smothered in a blanket of self-righteous, self-serving, moralistic posturing

And again,

In our role as public representatives of the kingdom of God, Christians should stick to replicating Calvary toward gay people as toward all people), and trust that their loving service will do more to transform people than laws ever could.

2. Abortion

If there is an exception to Boyd's point, it would certainly be abortion, right? He tackles this issue head on, and starts off with a few points/questions to help us grasp this issue in America today:

1. There are many "difficult metaphysical and ethical questions to consider." (Like, when does it become human? When does the baby get a soul and take on the image of God? Is the morning after pill as bad as a late term abortion? How much should the government legislate vs letting the woman control her own body? etc.)

2. How will other political issues, like how to best help the poor, which has an undeniable link to abortions, affect how you vote?

3. "The polarized way the issue is framed in contemporary politics is largely a function of various groups trying to gain power over each other for what they believe to be the good of the whole."

The distinctly kingdom question is not, How should we vote? The distinctly kingdom question is, How should we live? How can we individually and collectively come under women struggling with unwanted pregnancies and come under unborn babies who are unwanted? How can we who are worse sinners than any woman with an unwanted pregnancy--and thus have no right to stand over them in judgment--sacrifice our time, energy, and resources to ascribe unsurpassable worth to them and their unborn children? How can we act in such a way that we communicate our agreement with Jesus that these women and their unborn children are worth dying for? How can we individually and collectively sacrifice for and serve women and their inwanted children so that it becomes feasible for the mother to go full term? How can we individually and collectively bleed for pregnant women and for unborn babies in a way that maximizes life and minimizes violence?

We answer these disticntly kingdom questions not with our votes but with our lives. And, note, we don't need to answer any of the world's difficult political and metaphysical questions to do it. The unique kingdom approach to abortion isn't dependant on convincing ourselves and others that we have "God's knowledge" about highly ambiguous questions. It's based on our call to love as Jesus loved. There's a sacred woman; there's a growing life inside her, which, however it got there and whatever speculations one holds about its metaphysical status, is a miraculous creation of God. And the only relevant question people need to answer is, Are we willing to bleed for both?

Thought on Boyd's treatment of either of these issues?

Next time we will look at chapter 8, "One Nation Under God?"

Monday, February 04, 2008

Sexual Sin vs Injustice

I am troubled that Christians have been known more for being against people who are divorced than injustice in the world. And I think it's a problem when we're more angry about homosexuality than we are about starvation and AIDS in the world. There's something wrong with us when we have such little value for the life of a human being.

Erwin McManus speaking at Mosaic