Monthly Archives: April 2012

Where Did The Middle Go?

Barton W. Stone (1772-1844) Português: Barton ...

Barton W. Stone (1772-1844) Português: Barton Stone, pastor e teólogo estadunidense. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, I am not talking about my belly fat. Unfortunately, I know exactly where that middle went – or to be more precise, did not go. And, as a fair warning, this will not be a happy, clappy post. After several weeks of sleepless nights and an especially restless night last night I am just not in a happy, clappy mood.

I have been wrestling with writing this post for some time, and in fact have written a couple of posts that seemed better for the trash can than the computer. Maybe if I throw this out there someone can help me see through my own fog right now. After all, every plane in the sky needs an Air Traffic Controller on the ground. Most pilots just wish that the ATC personnel could get it through their minds who is actually flying the plane. So, this is still my blog and my thoughts, although I welcome all suggestions and thoughts, however appropriate they may be.

The “middle” that I have noticed is disappearing is the middle ground of the association of congregations known as the Churches of Christ. In my lifetime I have seen massive changes in the branch of the American Restoration Movement. I know my perspective is unique (as is everyone’s, I would imagine). I am currently a minister for a congregation of the church of Christ, and I have served in just about every ministerial capacity in every size congregation from the very smallest to a congregation of over 1,000 members. I have seen the beautiful, the bad, and the truly bizarre.

In my own situation the changes that bother me the most have a two sided emphasis, and it is difficult to cipher out which caused which. On the one hand there is a profound loss of interest in what I refer to as biblical theology. We used to be known as a “people of the book.” Now, the easiest way to grow a class from 25 down to about 5 is to introduce a study of a book of the Bible, or a particular theme of the Bible. We do not read our Bibles anymore, we do not teach the content of the Bible anymore, and we are almost embarassed if anyone suggests we need to study the Bible. What is “in” now is relationships. We are just so infatuated with relationships. We just all want to get together and relate. I’m not really sure what we relate about, but there sure seems to be a whole bunch of relatin’ going on.

Thomas Campbell, (1763-1854) American religiou...

Thomas Campbell, (1763-1854) American religious leader of the second great awakening. Campbell published "The Declaration and Address" in 1809 at Washington, Pennsylvania. He and son Alexander Campbell were key to the beginning of the Campbell/Stone Movement, also called the Restoration Movement. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other major shift that I have noticed, and the two are definitely related, is a major shift to a humanistic concept of worship. Worship in the Churches of Christ has, for all of my life anyway, been fairly structured and routine. Many would say lifeless,  but beauty has always been in the eye of the beholder. But now the pendulum has swung so far to the other side that it is difficult to identify who is being worshiped, God or gorgeous 20 somethings. We have become a people that is transfixed with the Bold and the Beautiful. Individual song leaders have vanished and in their place is a group called a “praise team.” (A thoroughly obnoxious term, if there ever was one!) But if you look at these “praise teams” you will notice that what they are selling has far less to do with praise than it does sex and virility. Unless you have rock hard abs, beautiful skin, immaculate hair style and, shall we say a pleasing female form, forget being invited to join the “team.” Heaven forbid that we invite someone who has MS and is confined to a wheelchair, never mind that in God’s sight their praise might be more sincere and acceptable that the whole congregation combined. These “praise teams” entertain and certainly sound professional (after all, they have been meticulously recruited, trained and rehearsed), but is that what worship has become? Have we so soon lost the concept of being a “kingdom of priests?” Why, and how?

The reactionary response has been to flee so far to the opposite end of the spectrum that NOTHING can be done in the assembly that might be interpreted as being exciting or emotional. Laws are drawn up in elder’s meetings and proclaimed from the pulpit. What used to be a joke that, “We don’t allow any joy in our worship” has become a painful reality in many congregations. People are afraid to express any kind of emotion, and the result is a dead formalism that cannot be spoken of as worship at all! When the pages of the New Testament are examined for an idea of how the first century Christians worshiped there is certainly an emphasis on “decency and order.” But there is an equal emphasis on joy and rejoicing, as well as confession and sorrow. Being in the presence of God is a profoundly emotional experience – or should be – and when we eviscerate the assembly of any emotion whatsoever we destroy not only worship, but the idea of community as a whole.

And so I see a very real and very distressing process occuring. On one side there is a definite turn to emotionism and entertainment. On the other side there is a reactionary response that rejects the expression of any emotion and a turn to a cold, rigid formalism. At the core of both movements is a loss of biblical theology. We have simply lost our bearings and we are floundering in a cess pool of our own creation and, quite honestly, of our own delight. Pig stys only stink if you are not a pig.

What really hurts me is that of all groups that claim to be “Christian,” members of the Churches of Christ have such a noble heritage. We exist because of the brighter angels in church history. We have heard a call to a higher plane of discipleship. We should know better. We should definitely behave better. At one time we had a message for the world that was unique enough that even though the world did not much care for it, at least it could see it as being different. Now, we have become so much like the world (focus on entertainment on one side, be bitterly sectarian and divisive on the other) that the world looks at us and says, “ho, hum, been there, done that.” Look at the congregations that have fully accomodated the denominational view of Christianity. Are they growing? What about those who are legalistic and sectarian to a fault. Are they growing? And more to the point, are we who would like to be considered in the “middle” learning anything from this?

David Lipscomb (1831-1917) co-founded the Nash...

David Lipscomb (1831-1917) co-founded the Nashville Bible School in 1891. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to think I am still in the “middle” of a very beautiful and vibrant movement, a movement that was conceived as a healing balm to the splintered and broken body of Christ. I am only too aware of the mistakes of my forefathers, but I can see and hear God’s message coming through them. I honor their insight, and I regret their mistakes. Most important, I want to walk in the path that they pointed out to me. I just want to be a disciple of Christ. I want to walk hand in hand with others who just want to be disciples of Christ.

But I have to wonder if my little girl will have a chance to be a part of a congregation that still wants to be in the middle.

Post #100

WordPress Logo English: WordPress Logo 中文: Wor...

WordPress Logo English: WordPress Logo 中文: WordPress Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been reminded by the good folks here at WordPress that this will be my 100th post. As I am sometimes much better at looking back than looking forward, I thought this would be a good time to do a little bit of reminiscing.

 To begin with, my blog has kind of taken on a life of its own. Originally I had planned for this space to be a collection of more or less shorter discussions of a  theological nature. My companion site was to have the longer, more introspective meditations. As I look back on my postings, my site for meditations contains very few entries and they are all short. This site, however, contains some rather lengthy entries, many of which are quite introspective. Oh well, so much for good intentions.

Another thing I wanted to do was to have an entire website devoted specifically to one particular issue, but the people that I chose to design that site are positively impossible to work with, but they roped me into a contract and absolutely will not let me out of it – so I am wasting an inordinate amount of money and getting nothing in return. Since this is my space and I can offer my opinions freely, I will share that in my experience is the last place you will want to go to have a website hosted.

Another thing that I have noticed as I look at my statistics is the type of articles that get the greatest number of “reads.” I suppose it is a common occurrence among any type of writer that the book or article that he or she thinks is the greatest thing since sliced bread gets no response, and something written quickly or with less anticipated response gets all the attention. So, out of the 99 previous posts one that stands out is my article on Forgiveness, Prisons and Capital Punishment. I really did not anticipate that article would get that much attention, and it has not generated any comments (at least as far as I can remember), but it routinely shows up on my summary sheet, getting one or more views per day. I am really curious about this. Are there a couple of people out there who keep returning to the article, or is it kind of a catchy title that makes people wonder, “hmmm, what’s up with this?”

Yet another observation is that I tend to get very few responses. Kind of like my preaching, actually, so no surprise there. I am only wishing that if people have a particular response to what I am saying they would let me know. I would like to thank Tim Archer and Joel Porter for their comments. They let me know I am not speaking into an echo chamber.

And, speaking of Tim Archer – he is the #1 driver of hits to this blog. One comment from Tim on Twitter and my averages go way up. His blog is the Kitchen of Half Baked Thoughts, and he uses WordPress as well, although his site is actually hosted through another server.

I know this site is pretty bland – no bells and whistles. Simple minds can only manage simple projects, but for those who regularly – or even occasionally – stop by to see what has been going on in my mind I thank you very, very much. I have really enjoyed writing the blog, the people here at WordPress are great (it is a simple site to use if you would like to create your own blog), and it has been fun to launch some of my meandering thoughts out into cyberspace. I look forward to many more hundreds of posts, but I will take them all one at at time.

I hope you are flying safe through the fog, and if I have helped you then all glory to God (I don’t know Latin, but there is a pretty cool phrase that says that same thing that makes you look really smart.)

(And, by the way, if anyone knows of a ministry opening where someone like your’s truly might be welcome, please let me know. My little girl sure would like to have a place where she knows she will be for a while so she can get a puppy.)

Church – Prophetic or Priestly?

Baked loaf from Bread Machine

Baked loaf from Bread Machine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(6th in a series that is becoming ponderously long)

As I sit and meditate and cogitate and even procrastinate, I am constantly working on how to best communicate what I believe to be the church’s role in the world today. I have been discussing the worldview of the Christian, because quite simply I believe that most disciples of Christ today have forfeited their birthright. We have surrendered a worldview that focuses on God and His kingdom and we have become entirely too satisfied with a bowl of worldly stew. My thoughts today concern the role of the church – the assembly of Christ. What, if anything, should be our primary focus? Is that our focus? And if not, why have we lost our focus and what can we do to regain it?

Taking this questions in order I want to point out that the word “church” simply means assembly. Much has been made about the derivation of the Greek word ekklesia, about how it comes from the preposition meaning “out of” and the verb meaning “to call.” Thus, many ponderous sermons have been preached about the church being the “called out ones.” However, the way the word was used in the time that the New Testament was written it simply meant an assembly. If you doubt me, check out Acts 19:23-41 where the riotous mob was referred to as, you guessed it, an ekklesia. I have often explained it this way: when the New Testament writers were looking for a word to describe the assembly of Jesus, they had two choices. The first, synagogue had been used for centuries to describe the meeting of the Israelite people. The second, ekklesia, had a more secular connotation and so was free of any religious overtones. So, the new “Israel” of God became known as the ekklesia of God or Jesus Christ.

If we are an assembly of God and his Son Jesus, what should our focus be? Should it not be God and his Son, Jesus? That just sounds so preposterously simple, yet it appears that it is anything but simple. I know the devil is in the details, but should not everything we do be traced back to a simple question: “What does this have to do with the kingdom of God?” Instead we focus on buildings and politics and programs and all sorts of busy work that only tangentially touches on the work of God’s kingdom here on earth.

Okay, I think I just answered the next question. In my mind the church, in the United States at least, has totally lost sight of its main purpose. The numbers of those who profess to be Christians are steadily dropping, and even among those who profess to be Christians it is obvious that what it means to be a prosperous and well-adjusted American takes far more precedence over the identifying marks of what it means to be a Christian.

Why? What has happened over the past few generations that has so weakened the church. And why does the church today seem to be so impotent to do anything about it?

The answer to those questions is very simple, at least in my mind. The church has simply made its peace with the world. We are just too embarrassed to be seen as anything that might be considered weird or out of touch with society, so we weakly just go along with the crowd and hope that no one will get too upset if we happen to touch on an issue of public debate. We baptize psychotherapy with Christian terminology so that it can be acceptable, and we remove words that are caustic and abusive, words like sin and judgment and hell and such as that.

I once commented on a blog topic about the time of worship services. The point at issue was the early start time for most Bible classes or worship services. The argument was made that many young people especially were just too tired to get up and be at services by 9:00 or even 10:00. I made the comment that the reason they were just too tired was that they had been up to the wee hours of the morning at some music concert and they just needed to give up the concert and start thinking about worshiping God on Saturday night instead of 9:30 on Sunday morning. You should have heard the ruckus that comment made! NO! Was the deafening chorus. We need Christians out in the concert audience until 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning so we can have a Christian influence at the concert. Sort of like the argument that we need to start churches in bars and pubs and clubs so that there can be a Christian influence among all the drunks, drug dealers and prostitutes. All of this is predicated, by the way, on the reading of Scripture that Jesus did exactly that – spend all of his time in bars and pubs and clubs. Never mind that those accusations were made by Jesus’ enemies, but we would hate to let a little truth get in the way of our prefered (re) interpretations.

Dore Bible Sermon on the Mount

Dore Bible Sermon on the Mount (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been recently studying about the reform movements within the church, and how the church came to truly affect the society in which it was located both in time and space. The reason I have found is interesting. The reason the church came to change the society in which it was found was not that it tried to subvert the society by “mingling with the sinners.” Whenever the church was effective at changing the culture was when it challenged that dominant culture by forcefully repudiating the standards of that culture. This is true for virtually every single period in which the church grew in numbers and in spirituality.

Another theme which seems to be linked to these periods of reform is that of the reliance on the Sermon on the Mount as a primary text. The closer the church, the assembly, gets to the Sermon on the Mount the more it confronts society, and the more it confronts society the more it grows and the more it deepens its own faith.

Is the assembly of God, the church of Christ, today going to have any impact on our secular society? That question remains to be answered. But I will forcefully and adamantly proclaim that it will not do so as long as we play by the rules that the secular society wants us to play by. We are called to be citizens of a different kingdom. Our king is in heaven. If we unlearn the failed policies of the past 100 (or 1,000) years or so we may have a fighting chance. But only if we get back to the core beliefs and practices that define the assembly of God and Christ. And that begins with a renewal of our allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount.

The Christian Worldview and the “Mind of Christ”

Model of atom.

Model of atom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(6th in a series)

In my last post in this series I briefly pointed out how Paul used the phrase “mind of Christ” to communicate what I am referring to as a Christian worldview. Or, stated more correctly, what I am referring to as a Christian worldview is best summed up in Paul’s beautiful phrase. As promised, in this post I will show a little more clearly (hopefully) how Paul relates all of the solutions to the Philippian problems to this one, over-arching concept.

A common misconception about the book of Philippians is that the Philippian congregation was the one congregation that Paul wrote to that had no problems. The entire book is just about rejoicing and loving each other and one great big “kumbaya” moment. That we would come to such a conclusion is evidence of how skillfully Paul did deal with the Philippian problem(s). However, I believe that there are a cluster of problems within the Philippian congregation, and although the letter is not presented as a systematic theology, there is a wonderful symmetry to the book that underscores Paul’s major point.

To begin with there is a problem of disunity within the congregation. Paul begins by rehearsing his strong bond with the members, (1:1-11) and then in 1:27-30 encourages them to “stand firm in one spirit” and to “(contend) as one man for the faith of the gospel.” Then, of course, there is the famous injunction to Euodia and Syntyche to start getting along with each other, and to the rest of the congregation (or one person?) to facilitate that reunion (4:2-3).

Next, Paul deals with an authentic call to Christian service/ministry in 1:12-26 and again in 2:19-30. Apparently Paul is concerned that the Philippians are not walking the walk that their talk is leading them.

But, that talk is important as well, and so the truth underlying the talk must be properly defined and defended (1:9-11; 2:12-18; 3:1-4:1).

Finally, as is so frequent in Paul’s writings, there is a call to genuine Christian gratitude (4:10-23).

This, then is a rough outline (it can be tweaked a little, and certainly given some more definition, but it is a solid outline of what I think Paul is trying to communicate) of the book of Philippians. And, notice what is at the center of all of these exhortations to the Philippian Christians – the profound Christological hymn of 2:1-11. In other words, although Paul is not writing systematically, he deals with several issues around a core truth. If we “have the mind of Christ” then issues such as Christian unity, Christian service and ministry, Christian doctrine and faith, and Christian gratitude all fall neatly into place. But, if you remove the “mind of Christ” from his followers and all we have left is a mind set on “earthly things” (3:19) and that will lead to destruction.

On a rabbit chasing tangent, this sets the context for that bug-a-boo verse in 2:12 where Paul exhorts the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Often mis-interpreted and greatly abused to mean that we are somehow responsible for at least half of our salvation (meekly allowing God to take care of the other half), this verse teaches directly the opposite! If the “mind of Christ” is in us, then the works of Christ should flow out of us. We do not earn our salvation. Far from it! We cannot earn even half of our salvation. We can only “work out” what God has worked within us. As verse 13 makes blatantly clear: most of our mis-interpretations occur because we do not read the verse preceding our pet verse, or the verse following it. The only “work” we can do is the work of the “mind of Christ” which is in us. Paul says substantially the same thing in 1 Cor. 2:16 – “we have the mind of Christ.”

So returning to our main thesis. The book of Philippians is a concise and beautifully written letter that presents not only what a Christian worldview is (the “mind of Christ”), but it relates to us how that Christian worldview is relevant to solving so many of our current problems. Granted, Paul does not dot every “i” nor does he cross every “t”. That will be our continuing mission – to flesh out exactly what the “mind of Christ” has to do in a world that utterly rejects any part or parcel of the Christian mindset.

Book Review: “Forsaken” by Thomas H. McCall

Original art by Ruth Woroniecki depicting Jesu...

Original art by Ruth Woroniecki depicting Jesus on the cross and as the lamb of God. Español: Arte original por Ruth Woroniecki que retrata Jesus en la cruz y como el cordero de Dios. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had heard about this book some time ago, and so I was very pleased that on my recent trip to Chicago I was able to buy it direct from IVP at a tidy little savings.

Before I review the book, a little background into why I wanted to read the book might be valuable. I have for some time been deeply bothered with the belief that God turned his back on Jesus while Jesus was on the cross. That particular doctrine is especially odious to me on several different levels and for as many different reasons. I am convinced the doctrine cannot be defended biblically, and therefore certainly not theologically. It is, to use a quaint term that is no longer in vogue, heretical. Thus, when I read that this book refuted that particular doctrine I was equally thrilled and disappointed. I was thrilled because I want people to understand just how dangerous the “God abandoned Jesus” doctrine really is, and at the same time I was disappointed because I wanted to be the one to write the book to refute this doctrine. Oh well. The same thing happened when I wanted to sell my invention of the airplane. Turns out I missed that one by a few years too.

Now to Thomas McCall’s book, Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why It Matters (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012). Actually, only the first chapter deals with the first phrase of the title. As such, the first chapter (“Was The Trinity Broken?”) was especially compelling to me, because it gave me even more reasons to challenge the idea that Jesus was forsaken on the cross. In particular, I appreciated the historical evidence that McCall presented regarding the way the early church fathers understood the plaintive cry of Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I would have preferred to have seen more work on Psalm 22, but it is always important to remember to read a book as the author intended it, not as the reader intended it. All in all, I believe chapter 1 is worth the purchase price of the book, whether you agree with the author or disagree with him.

The second chapter (“Did the Death of Jesus Make It Possible for God to Love Me?”) was, in my estimation, the weakest of the book. I am not exactly sure what place the chapter had in the book, and I remember as I was reading it thinking, “What connection does this have to chapter 1?” As I understand it (and I am leaving open the possibility that I have totally misread the chapter), the chapter is a defense of the traditional view of the impassibility of God and how the concepts of God’s wrath and love can be fitted into that concept. As such, the chapter contains (again, this is for me) a torturous definition and defense of the concept of “impassibility” that I find quite lacking. Also lacking was, as I mentioned, any clear connection to the first chapter. Even after completing the book I am wondering if the second chapter could not have been greatly reduced, or perhaps eliminated altogether. The discussion of the connection between God’s wrath and love did need to be dealt with, but I am “bumfuzzled” as to how the chapter clearly answered the question.

The third chapter (“Was the Death of Jesus A Meaningless Tragedy?”) basically returns to the thought of the first chapter. In this chapter McCall deals with the seeming conundrum of God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will. This is an ambitious question to attempt to answer in an entire volume, and for the author to do so in a little over 30 pages is even more ambitious, but he does a good job. You may not agree with his conclusions, but I found his argumentation to be engaging.

The final chapter (“Does It Make a Difference?”) sums the book up. As such the reader is made more fully aware of the main purpose of the author. He is really not writing a book about the last few hours of Jesus’ life, he is really interested in writing a theological treatise on the meaning of the trinity in the life of the Christian. The “Forsaken” title and the gripping first chapter are prolegomena to the main thesis: the trinity is real, cannot be broken, and is vitally important for the life of the Christian.

One thing that I truly appreciated about the book was McCall’s continuing insistence that we as Christians cannot take one statement, or even one fundamental truth, and build and entire theology upon that statement or truth. The doctrine of the trinity, or the twin doctrines of justification and sanctification (which he deals with at length) are multi-layered and rich. I believe the author does a good job at making this point. Repeatedly he warns that extremism in any direction is both “theologically questionable and pastorally dangerous” or words to that effect. All through the book there is a clear emphasis on theology’s ultimate pastoral concern. That is to say, what we believe has a profound impact on how we live and how we minister to others.

One other comment that may or may not be important – but the book is thoroughly evangelical. The authors that McCall quotes are mostly in the mainstream of evangelical theology, and he makes it abundantly clear that he believes in salvation “by grace alone through faith alone.” I find this emphasis somewhat mildly amusing, since he builds much of his argument in chapter 3 on the sermons of Peter and Paul in the book of Acts. Apparently, his Bible did not contain the verses which mention baptism as being a part of justification and the basis of the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification, but ultimately that is the author’s problem and not mine.

The bottom line is that I do recommend this book for those who are wrestling with the doctrine of the trinity and why it matters. As I mentioned, the first chapter is especially good as it relates to Jesus cry of despair. However, do not expect the rest of the book to focus on that statement: the book is really about the trinity, and why the concept of the trinity is important in the life of the Christian.

As with any product of a human mind this book has its weaknesses. McCall is a fallible human, there are some issues I have with his theology. As I strive to point out with any of my opinions and remarks, “your mileage may vary.” You may love the book, or hate it. But I believe it is worthy of consideration and conversation.

The “Mind of Christ”

A peace symbol, originally designed by the Bri...

A peace symbol, originally designed by the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament movement (CND). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(5th in a series)

Okay, enough of the destruction and de-construction. Now, onward and upward with the building of a Christian worldview. If you have not already read the previous articles in this series, I suggest you do so to familiarize yourself with what I am NOT trying to do, or with the concept that I am trying to overcome.

Perhaps some are still perplexed as to the exact meaning of the word “worldview,” especially in the sense in which I am using it. I think I hit upon the most succinct meaning in my sermon of April 15 when I said that it was “how we see God, others and ourselves in this world.” That may not be the best technical definition of the word, but it is the way in which I am using the term.

There are several different passages that I will be examining as I move along toward creating this Christian worldview. I have decided that the passage that speaks most clearly to what I am trying to communicate is Philippians 2:5, a wonderfully succint yet deeply packed verse of Scripture. The key word in the sentence is the word that is translated either “mind” or “attitude.” So, the verse reads either, “Have the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus” or “Have the same mind as that of Christ Jesus.” I suppose if you wanted to you could make a case that there is a big difference between the two words, but for our purposes we will say that “mind” and “attitude” are fundamentally synonymous. For my own 2 cents worth, I prefer the word “mind,” because the word in Greek seems to be especially important to Paul as he writes this letter. Just for comparison purposes, notice also 1:7, 2:2, 3:15 and 19, and 4:2 and 10. That is seven uses of the word in this short letter, far more than what Paul uses even in his much longer letters. If I understand the letter correctly, Paul was wanting the Philippian Christians to be unified in their “mind,” and the mind that he wanted them to be unified in was the “mind of Christ Jesus.”

At this point I could continue with either a mind-numbing verse by verse exegesis of the book of Philippians, or I could just cut the chase and get right to my conclusion. I think you will all be pleased to know I have chosen door #2. So, in brief, this is what I believe Paul is telling the Philippians, at least as it relates to the word “mind” that he uses so frequently.

1.  The Philippian church was either already divided, or it was on the brink of division, and Paul very gently corrects their faulty thinking by calling them to be like-minded, or unified (chapters 1 and 4).

2.  The ultimate prescription for these Christians to recover, or to develop, a like-mindedness was for each of them to adopt the “mind of Christ” (chapter 2).

3.  Maturity in the Christian faith, and a desire to continue to mature in the Christian faith, had a huge role to play in deciding whether a person would accept Paul’s teaching or remain childish, and therefore divided (3:1-16).

4.  The opposite of having the mind of Christ would be to have the mind of the world (3:17-4:1). This is precisely what my first 4 articles were designed to illustrate. We cannot have both the mind of the world and the mind of Christ.

In my next post I will work with the letter to the Philippians to show how Paul weaves several strands of obedience together to create the tapestry of unity that he has in mind. I did not want this post to get too long and burdensome, so we will continue our study of Philippians in our next step toward developing a Christian worldview.

Bonhoeffer Seminar

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1932)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1932) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve been checking in recently you know I have not posted anything for a while. I have been attending a seminar on Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Chicago, as a part of my D.Min. program. I have some time to kill here at the airport, so I thought I would give some preliminary thoughts on the seminar. It will take me quite some time to process everything that I learned this weekend, but I can make a start.

1.  With the publication of all of Bonhoeffer’s works in English there is a real explosion of scholarly work in the life and theology of Bonhoeffer. Only two volumes remain to be published in the DBWE, and one will be released very shortly. At least one additional biography is in the works. This phenomenon was discussed, and it was agreed that some theologians make a big splash and then disappear (kind of like New Coke). However, if the thoughts of a theologian continue to be relevant 60+ years after his death, and new works continue to be written about him, that is a pretty good indication that his works are valuable and need to be considered.

2.  It was fascinating watching the difference in speaking styles between some foreign scholars (Aberdeen, Scotland and Cambridge, England) and some younger American scholars. The younger scholars were far more animated and used PowerPoint, the older Americans and the foreign scholars were more polished and “distinguished.”

3.  It is amazing how exhausted you can be if all you do all day is sit and listen to lectures. Honestly, I would leave the hotel at 8:00, not return until 9:30 that night, and except for some walking to the cafeteria and back all I did was listen to lectures and do a little bit of reading. And I am absolutely fried. Part of that was a lack of sleep. And part of that was a major overload of coffee. And part of that was having to stay awake for a grinding schedule of lectures. I need some sleep!

4.  I learned so much about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. One lecture in particular focused on his time in New York, when he attended the Abyssinian Baptist church in Harlem. Working with the blacks in New York (through the friendship with a young black student at Union Theological Seminary) had a profound impact on Bonhoeffer – maybe THE defining moment of his life. He was stunned by the treatment of blacks in the U.S., and confidently spoke that the same thing would never happen in Germany. His brother wrote to him letting him know that major changes were taking place in Germany while he was gone (1930-31). Bonhoeffer was horrified when he returned home and saw what was happening to the Jews. Any nation, at any time can revert to pure animalism if vigilance is not maintained. And don’t think that “Christianity” will save any nation. The German Christians were in full support of Hitler’s policies. It was only the “Confessing Church” in Germany that raised any objections to Hitler, and they only offered up whimpers. It was Bonhoeffer that was THE vocal critic of the Nazi program, and it started with him when he saw the mistreatment of the blacks in NY.

5.  In spite of all the new research being done on Bonhoeffer, much remains to be done, and God willing, I would like to be a part of that conversation. I obviously have a lot of work to do for this particular course, but maybe I can formulate a good thesis and actually do my D.Min. final project on an aspect of Bonhoeffer’s ministry. All in good time, I hope.

Macro and Micro Worldviews – The Power of Perspective

Native Americans flee from the allegorical rep...

Native Americans flee from the allegorical representation of Manifest Destiny, Columbia, painted in 1872 by John Gast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(4th in a series)

At the risk of belaboring an issue, I would like to continue my discussion of the danger of allowing non-christian worldviews to subvert a worldview that is thoroughly biblical, and beyond that, positively Christian. I have mentioned the conflict between an American worldview and a Christian worldview, and in my study of Genesis 1-2 I pointed out the danger of a thoroughly scientific/modern worldview. In this post I hope to point out the similarities between a macro and a micro worldview – how both of them can be dangerously subversive to a Christian worldview.

In terms of macro worldviews I see the most obvious as being nationalism. I have addressed this previously in my look at Americanism. But, lest other nations feel superior to the United States in this regard, I only have to point out British Colonialism, German Nazism, South African Apartheid, The Japanese rape of China prior to WWII, and the scores of examples of nationalism among third world countries. The fundamental fact is that every nation has its dark history of peculiar nationalism. It seems to be a part of the human condition to feel as if one’s country of origin is in some way superior to other nations, or that one’s skin color is superior to other skin colors, etc. but beyond nationalism there are other worldviews that control large segments of the population. In my case study I examined one of these: the philosophy of scientism/modernism. This is the view that science can solve all of our problems and answer all of our questions. So, in terms of Bible study we turn to the physicists and archeologists to “prove” the existence of God or the truthfulness of the Bible. In other words, we place faith underneath the overarching discipline of science. Individuals with a scientific worldview base everything on proven facts, and will not accept anything that transcends those limits. Even though they may say they believe in miracles, there is always a rational explanation lurking not too far beneath the surface. Therefore there must be a sandbar somewhere in the Red Sea for the Israelites to have crossed, and a “scientific” explanation for the existence of dinosaurs and the apparent age of the earth. These are all examples of what I am referring to as a Macro worldview. It is a worldview shared by many hundreds, thousands, or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of individuals, and reinforced through official pronouncements and official or semi-official enactments.

More subtle in appearance but just as effective in controlling behavior are the Micro-worldviews that we all hold near and dear to our understanding of the world. These worldviews might also be described as “tribal” worldviews, and taken together make up the larger Macro worldview. Thus, within the larger umbrella of Americanism we have the smaller tribes of Republican and Democrat, and even within those political groups we have smaller groups such as the NRA, the NAACP and other more-or-less single issue voting groups. Because of my personal history I have known individuals who are so absorbed in the gun owning, 2nd amendment sect of the conservative wing of the Republican political party that they are absolutely oblivious to the existence of any other group. To them, a person either agrees with them or they are not Americans. But they would not identify themselves as being anything other than Americans. I can also think of a few union members who feel the same way about their tribe.

Within the Macro worldview of American Christianity we see scores of smaller micro worldviews, labeled denominations. Within these denominations we have a dizzying number of smaller and smaller worldviews. I would suggest that the smaller the group, the more power the worldview holds over the individual, although their apprehension of that power might be totally non-existent. Thus, one might identify him or herself as “Christian,” but they might actually be subconsciously limiting that term to the non-instrumental, pro-fellowship room, non-fermented wine, multiple cup, divided Sunday school, multiple Bible translation, paid located preacher, multiple ministry staff, Church of Christ. Each one of those sub-groups holds a tremendous amount of power over the thoughts and actions of a committed adherent.

So, how does all of this relate to a Christian worldview? The point I would like to make is that if we do not sit down and take an inventory of all the Macro and Micro worldviews that exert power over us we will never be able to determine whether our ultimate worldview is that of Christ or of the world. Just for example: I am an Anglo-American, male, college educated, married, father of a female child, politically independent, member of a conservative yet “main-line” Church of Christ. I used to be a pilot, and I own several guns (mostly for sentimental reasons – I rarely shoot any of them). Some of these variable are of my own choosing, some are totally by accident. Each holds a particular power over me. None of these characteristics is malevolent in and of itself. However, each can be used negatively if I so desire, or if I am unaware of its power and so wield that power in ignorance. By becoming fully self-aware (or as fully as I can, living within that sub-group) I can lower the risk of it controlling my life and increase my control over it. So, when I encounter a Mexican-American female unmarried mother of three who is a devout Roman Catholic and votes solidly Democratic I can see how my sub-groups are in conflict with hers, and so I have the ability to rise above my “prejudices” and thus see her as Christ sees her.

Ahhh, there is the ultimate issue! If I see her as a Mexican American female unmarried mother of three who is a devout Roman Catholic who votes a straight Democratic ticket I am not viewing her as Christ would view her. I have a distinct Macro and Micro worldview that limits my apprehension of her. She becomes a constituent part of a larger or smaller groups, and possibly a group that is opposed to my little tribe, therefore she must be my enemy and I either convert her to my little tribe (not likely) or eliminate her from my frame of reference. So, to thousands and thousands of “Christians” this simple young woman ceases to exist. Expand this and you have the Nazi holocaust or the American “Manifest Destiny” that exterminated thousands of north American native Indians.

I know that these posts may seem to be redundant, or perhaps meaningless to an extent. I am sorry if I am writing in a “stream of consciousness” mode here, but sometimes that is how I process some questions in my own mind. I know I want to have a Christian worldview. In order to have that worldview I must ask what worldview I do have, and then I have to break that down further and further until I have the “kernel” of who I am and what I want to be. It is only through this brutally honest self-evaluation that I can grow and mature into the disciple of Christ that I believe Christ wants me to be. Therefore, I have to face my American prejudices, along with all of my smaller “tribal” prejudices. I know I cannot get rid of them totally – and to be honest some of them have served me quite well and I don’t want to get rid of them. I count my upbringing within the Churches of Christ as my number one example here. It is my birthright, and I will not sell it out. But I want to be aware of its weaknesses as well as its strengths!

Okay, I think I have worked through the “tearing down and the uprooting.” Now, on to some positive, constructive thoughts about creating a Christian worldview in place of the secular worldviews that we no longer wish to hold.

A Christian Worldview – A Textual Study

creation of man

creation of man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(3rd in a series)

So, briefly, so far in this series I have discussed how the Christian worldview is being subverted, and then how what we call a Christian worldview is very often only an American worldview, not a Christian worldview at all. In this post I want to illustrate how the meaning of a simple text can be subverted into something that is profoundly different from its intended meaning, all because of a worldview that is out of sync with the Bible in general and Jesus specifically. I need to clarify that the worldview critiqued in this study is not the American worldview per se, but it certainly is a worldview driven by a modern, scientific mindset. Please return your seat to its fully upright position and make sure your seat belts are fastened and your tray tables are properly stowed. This flight might get a little turbulent.

The text I want to use as an illustration if Genesis 1:1-2:25. I choose this text for a couple of reasons. One, it is the first in the Bible, and so hopefully folks won’t think I am riding a hobbyhorse. Two, there is a wonderful process that transpires in this text and if we are willing to see it, it opens up all kinds of possibilities in terms of hearing “the rest of the story” as the late Paul Harvey would say.

The creation story has become somewhat of a religious, and perhaps even political, hot potato recently. Depending on how you interpret the story you are either a proponent of the flat earth society or an ivory towered evolutionist. That is to say there are two very well defined schools of interpretation. One claims that Genesis 1 teaches a young earth (approximately 6,000 years, give or take a dinosaur’s life span, and the other school claims that Genesis 1 is a myth, and that the earth is billions of years old, give or take a millennium or two. I want to bravely suggest that there is a third option, a Christian worldview option, as it were. My option is that Genesis 1 and 2 are not teaching anything about how old the earth is, are not interested in how old the earth is, and properly understood, should not even be used in the discussion of how old the earth is.

Note these simple facts about these two chapters that should be easy enough for any elementary school child to observe:

1.  The only time given in chapter 1 is “in the beginning.” In chapter 2 the time given is “when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” Hardly scientific specificity here.

2.  In chapter 1 mankind is clearly created last, following the creation of all the earth and heavenly bodies, and following the creation of all the animals. In chapter 2 the creation of mankind appears to precede the creation of the other animals, and even the creation of the garden. At the very least that is a legitimate interpretation from some translations.

3.  In chapter 1 the point of the creation story appears to be (in my most humble but undeniably correct opinion) the fact that man has been give the highest place in God’s creation. He is master of all that is created by God. I think this is key to understanding much of the rest of the Bible. In chapter 2 however, there is a shift in emphasis. The emphasis appears to be (again, imhbuco) the fact that man is alone, and needs the presence of a mate in order to be fully “human.” Male, Adam, is incomplete without female, Eve. Once again, I believe there is a deep lesson for the reading of the rest of Scripture.

So, if I am correct, there is a shift in purpose between the telling of the creation story in Genesis 1 and 2. There is, in egghead language, a different theology and a different anthropology in chapter 1 and in chapter 2. The event is the same, but the telling and the meaning are very different.

Now, this is where Bible study and biblical theology become so much fun for me. Is there another point, another single aspect of God’s history with man in which there is a similar shift in theology? I am so glad that you asked!

In Genesis 2:2-3 we read, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (NIV, italics mine.) In Exodus 20:8-11 the Israelites are commanded to keep the Sabbath holy for the exact same reason. Now, in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 we read that the Israelites were to keep the Sabbath holy, but notice in v. 15 the reason is, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” Not a single word about the creation story! The command is the same – the keeping of the Sabbath day. But now the theology is different. It is not that the Israelites can forget the creation story: Genesis 2 and Exodus 20 are still in the canon and still in their memory. But now a new chapter has been added to that story. Now the Sabbath has a new and deeper meaning.

[By the way, I think the same process can be seen in the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles as they “retell” the story of the house of David, and in the variant voices of the four gospel writers.]

If I am correct the same process is occurring in Genesis 1 and 2. Genesis 2 does not correct or modify Genesis 1, but the purpose of the two creation stories is different, and completely complementary. Complementary, that is, as long as we are willing to view them with a different worldview than our 21st century American worldview. The creation of a Christian worldview allows us to see Scripture in a new light. I am not looking for scientific facts – I am looking for how God works in and for his creation. God becomes my Father instead of my physics teacher.

What is the point of this case study? Did God do all of this creating in 6 24-hour periods? Maybe, maybe not. I am certainly not going to say that he could not have done so had he wished to do so. The text is ambiguous at best. I believe Genesis 1 actually precludes this possibility, as the sun and moon (time and season markers) are not even created until “day” 4. Thus, proponents of the 6 24-hour time frame have a huge problem in trying to convince me. But, once again, that is beside the point. God could have created the world in a millisecond had he so desired. And, he could have done so 6,000 years ago or he could have done so 600 billion years ago. In terms of Genesis, the time is simply inconsequential. It does not matter. I am well aware of the manner in which the 6,000 year time frame was concluded, and quite honestly the process leaves way too much to be desired in terms of speculation and questionable interpretation of textual data.

One thing I am sure of: when we use a non-scientific text to advance a dogma that only seeks to answer a scientific question we are abusing that text. Genesis 1-2 is not a scientific text. When we use the text to defend our view of the age of the earth what we are doing is advancing our 21st century American worldview (or, perhaps, western worldview). Our motives may be well placed, but our execution is deeply flawed.

One last comment: it bothers me deeply that Christians will be the first to use a scientific process that supports their beliefs, perhaps in the dating of a manuscript or the dating of an archeological discovery such as the destruction of Jericho; but will ridicule and deny that same scientific process when it is used to arrive at a conclusion that contradicts their preconceived ideas. Atheists do not have a corner on the market when it comes to hypocrisy. If we use carbon-14 dating or some other scientific process to date a Greek manuscript to the third century AD, we ought to be willing to accept the same process when it is used to date other discoveries to a time period that challenges the 6,000 year age of the earth theory. Once again, I am not saying the scientific process is not flawed, I am only saying what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If we use science to defend the truthfulness of the text (and it has in many varied and wonderful ways), then we ought to be honest when scientific processes challenge our cherished, but possibly incorrect, beliefs. Dogmatically, I prefer to leave this question where the text leaves it – open.

This has been a long flight, and I thank you for flying in the fog with me for this leg of your journey. Should you desire to continue our flight, we will take a brief rest stop for some fuel and to re-supply more snacks, and then we will continue our journey toward creating a Christian worldview.

Losing the American Worldview

United States of America

United States of America (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(2nd in a series.)

As I continue my series on developing a Christian worldview, I want to stay with my preliminary thoughts for a post or two longer. My subject here will be to consider that not every philosophy or worldview that is “based” on Scripture can be adequately described as “Biblical” or “Christian.” Then, in my next post I will present a case study to illustrate what I mean concretely.

I fear that the greatest obstacle in getting people to want to develop a Christian worldview is that, particularly here in the United States, we think we already have one. Americans (and I apologize to other North and South Americans, but I am stuck with my United States of America hubris) have felt from the very founding of our country that God has blessed the United States of America. After all, we started this country for the purpose of religious freedom (or so the story goes, there were quite a few rapscallions in the bunch too, who had no interest in religion at all!) Although it disturbs modern atheists, that streak of religion goes deep into our DNA. And it has some disturbing consequences for proclaimers of the gospel.

If you repeat a lie long enough and loud enough, eventually you will convince people that what you are saying is the truth. This is the basic principle behind most advertising and all propaganda machines. And, if people are told from the cradle to the grave that they are a part of a Christian nation, chances are at some point they will begin to believe it, even if they reject Christianity itself. And, if you are a part of a Christian nation, especially if you hold to Christian beliefs on at least a nominal level, you will convince yourself that your worldview is Christian. In reality the worldview is not Christian, it is American, and the United States of America version of American, not Canadian or Mexican.

To generalize here, the prevailing worldview of citizens of the United States is one of radical individualism, a very high regard for science and the scientific method, a deep respect for “basic, fundamental” freedoms such as speech and association, and a basic appreciation for the concepts of free market capitalism. Now, quick, without looking, how many sayings of Jesus can you quote that support any of those positions? I could go on with other freedoms certain groups espouse that are a little more debated, such as the right to bear arms, the right of privacy (which opened the door for unlimited abortions) and others. But I think my point is clear. Most of the distinctions we as Americans hold as near and dear to our hearts are based in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as opposed to the Old or New Testaments.

However, because we have been told for so long and so fervently that we are a “Christian” nation, then we read these issues back into the text and Jesus becomes a pistol toting, placard wearing, union loving, scientific thinking free market capitalist. Truth is he was none of those things. He was a “pre-modern” Jew in a Roman backwater country where bartering was the primary method of exchange and freedom of speech meant you could say anything you wanted as long as you praised the Caesar and the Jewish High Priest. John Wayne was American to the core. Jesus of Nazareth was not.

So, our mission, should we choose to accept it, in developing a truly “Christian” worldview (and I use the term “Christian” guardedly, because it is prone to huge misinterpretation) is to lose the American worldview. Jesus said we cannot serve two masters, we cannot love God and money, and we cannot try to limp through life with two opposing worldviews. Joshua said the same thing long before Jesus. If God is God then we must serve him, if he is not, well…choose whom you will serve.

Yea, right. “Easy for you,” you say. Well, no it is not. I was born in America, (well, in New Mexico, which is close), educated in America, and I live and breath the freedoms that are accorded to me by nature of that birthright. So, this is not easy for me either. I am working on this as I type. I know I am going to have to change some things in my life, as I have already started to do so, and I am not pretending that a change of this magnitude will be easy.

But, still, I will say that it is critical if I want to be the child of God that he wants me to be. When he called me to be his son, and when I answered that call in the waters of baptism, something profound happened to me. I might not have been fully aware of it at the time, but I was changed. I was made a citizen of a new kingdom; not an earthly one but a heavenly one. And it is imperative that I start living up to that high calling. I am an American by accident. I am a Christian, a disciple of Christ, by choice. If have made that choice to follow Jesus, I must develop a Christian worldview.

I do hope you will follow me on this journey.

(next: does this have a practical application in the way we read Scripture?)

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