Monday, June 29, 2009

Excuse Me, Mr. MacArthur

One thing I have never wanted to become on this blog is someone who goes around arguing with other people's theology. Not that I don't have disagreements with people; I could spend a lot of time critiquing guys like Mark Driscoll, but what comes of it? First you're giving airtime, and second, I think when your "ministry" becomes nothing more than critiquing other "ministries" ... at some point you just become a jerk.

However, sometimes when I get hit with a broad brush, I feel the need to raise my hand and say, "Excuse me!?"

In a recent interview, John MacArthur said (amongst other self-serving statements) "the underlying bottom line of this whole emerging movement is they don’t believe in any doctrine, they don’t believe in any theology. They don’t want to be forced to interpret anything in scripture a certain way..."

As I said... at some point you just become ... well, you get the idea. Ignoring the title emergent for a moment, John basically states that anyone who doesn't buy HIS doctrine or theology doesn't believe ANY doctrine or theology. In fact, since I don't see it his way...I (according to him) am not a Christian.

I believe and follow plenty of doctrine and theology John. I just don't believe or follow yours.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sanford: A Reminder to be Slow to Speak

The irony of Mark Sanford's about face when it comes to politicians having an affair is beyond perfect. Thanks to video recording, we have a detailed account of what he believes a politician caught in an affair should do.

Ummm.... except when he does it.

This is why scripture tells us again and again not to judge... but we just can't stop ourselves because it is so damn satisfying.

It makes us feel righteous...

Romans 2
1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God's judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?

What leads someone to repent?


Judgment brings defensiveness. Kindness is subversive. It breaks down defenses.

The thing is, it is easy to show kindness and refrain from judgment when it is someone you love.

For example: You become aggravated at the person who just cut you off on the road and you speed up so you can swing up along side them to give them a piece of your mind!

Then you see it is grandma... and all of your anger melts away. You forgive her offense because you love her.

You hold anger against a former friend because you remember the time they betrayed you - you think you will resent them forever. Then you hear she is dying and their family is grieving, and all you want to do is support their family, remember the good times, make it right.

This is why Jesus told us to love our enemies. When we love someone, we can offer grace that we could never offer to the other. In the Way of Jesus there is no other.

We are all loved ones.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Quotes from articles I read recently #7

Ok, this was not in a blog article, but Redlefty wrote it and it was one of the coolest things I have read in a while:

It's impossible to behave like Jesus until we can perceive like him.


There was a time where possession of a Bachelor of Theology degree put your near the top of the educated within a western society. But, today it is usually very unlikely that a pastor would be anywhere near being the most educated person in their congregation in most churches. Moreover, the explosion of christian publishing means that theological resources are more available than at any time in the history of the church. And, it doesn’t stop there, the possibilities for mentoring, retreats and spiritual direction are no longer confined to clergy and their professional development. Fernando's Desk

The problem is that there is a middle ground between eclecticism and orthodoxy, one that views how we interpret Jesus as a much more open question than that was allegedly "settled" by ecumenical councils held centuries after Jesus died, and which focuses more on how we can transform our lives by following Jesus than on whatever theological spin you want to put on Jesus's nature. I believe I am not alone in being someone who is interested in Jesus, his life, his message, and their resulting implications for today, and who are also interested in progressive theologians like Borg, Crossan, Spong, Fox, Pagels, Hick, and Cobb. And I believe I am not alone in embracing an intelligent reading of the Bible without taking at face value some of the mythological claims found there. I see a lot of churches that talk a good game about diversity; but when push comes to shove, it seems that in many cases diversity really means "think what you want but this is what you really should be believing." If they are really going to tell us what "we" believe by laying out a set of orthodox dogmas, then they should not advertise themselves as encouraging diversity--because they don't. Mystical Seeker

Somehow we have convinced ourselves that each succeeding generation has to have a “better” and more luxurious lifestyle than the one before us. I just saw a statement by the director of the FCC that noted with the switch to digital from analog broadcasting, 3 million “at risk” Americans would find themselves without television. Only in America can the term “at risk” be used to describe someone who might have their T.V. shut off. Beyond the Pale

And I'm heartened to see much of my fundamentalism left behind as if in a cake pan; I'll serve the best of my religion to my kids in large slices and leave behind the crumbs. Most of it isn't intentional, but when I engage the fundamentalism of my youth (on a summer visit back home), I see what I was taught as a child, but I'm not teaching to my children:
  • - that they're going to hell - that God kind of loves them and kind of hates them
  • - that sex should be discussed with words like "filthy" "slutty" and "dirty"
  • - that rightful authority should be ascribed to James Dobson, Jim Bakker, Ken Ham, Bill Gothard, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell
  • - that conservative talk radio and cable news corresponds with conservative Christianity
  • - that whatever they're doing isn't good enough
  • - that their culture deserves their fear, judgment, and avoidance
  • - that the the world is 6000 years old and that God planted dinosaur bones in the earth to test our faith
  • - that Jesus is going to return any minute and won't they feel ashamed because their beds aren't made
  • - that, as boys, authority over women is their birthright
  • - that if they question outrageous, violent, ethnocentric, historically questionable, or contradictory things in the Bible, their faith is weak
  • - that a single moral point may be derived from absolutely anything in the Bible
The Paris Project

I was reminded of a passage I recently taught on in our youth group, the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician Woman. If you don't know the story, Jesus is hanging out with his disciples and a Syrophoenician Woman--someone that had no business coming to Jesus for help, he was the Jews messiah--comes to Jesus begging for help. Jesus calls her something quite derogatory saying, "it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." Now what was Jesus doing here? I am sure, at least I hope, that the disciples were surprised to hear Jesus talk this way. I am defiantly surprised to hear Jesus talk this way. But perhaps Jesus was talking to his disciples more so than he was to the woman. Think about it, the disciples looked at this woman and probably thought "dog." They had no problem thinking this way. But then I can almost see Jesus turning to his disciples as he says, "it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." It's one thing for the disciples to think it, but another thing for Jesus to say it. Jesus says this just to expose it for how ridiculous it really is. Here is a woman who desperately needs help, who is begging for just the crumbs from Jesus' table, and Jesus calls her a dog. This is not the kingdom Jesus has been proclaiming. There's a level of sarcasm in Jesus words, as though to say, "yeah, she's just a dog, huh? NO, that's ridiculous!" Jesus' final response is to do exactly what the woman asked. The disciples must have felt some conviction, hearing Jesus say what was in their hearts and seeing him expose it for what it was. Living in the Kingdom

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern

Yep, I am a comic geek. The coming of children and the expenses they bring caused me to curtail my buying habit, but I am always happy when a comic character hits the screen correctly.

I was horrified a few years back when there were rumors that Jack Black was going to portray Green Lantern in a campy/comic take on the character. The author of this fan trailer has caught the tone I hope the upcoming movie will have. And since they haven't chosen a lead actor yet, I think this video shows that Nathan Fillion would be a great choice.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Life Update

Here are a couple of things happening in my life right now:
  • Summer vacation has started, so I am busy doing all the little things that I have been putting off.
  • Joseph starts this Friday. I am in every scene but two.... I NEED MORE PRACTICE. :)
  • I am enjoying an early Father's Day present. My children and wife got me an Aspire One Netbook. Love it, love it, love it!!!!
  • It has been so wet and cold, that I have not been able to do one movie in my backyard park yet this year. My theater and vacation schedule means I probably won't get to do one until August. Bummer!
  • Our church is opening a south campus this Fall, 15 minutes from my home (presently it is 30 minutes). I am hoping this will help me re-connect there, as I have been increasingly feeling that, though I support what happens there, it occurs outside everything else I do here in South Jordan - it services a community that I am not a part of.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Result of Us/Them Thinking

There are two evangelical apologists whose blogs I follow. I don't read them often, because usually their blogs are boiler-plate bullet points presented in a "thou shalt" format. In addition, when I watch these two interact with those not of their belief line, they tend to be caustic, sarcastic, and abrupt (one particularly). I would chalk some of this up to the fact that people often tend to be a little more extreme in their online rhetoric than they are in real life. However, I know some folks who have interacted with these gentlemen personally, and their online persona seemed fairly consistent with real life. With these commentaries and experiences, I have not been able to help developing an underlying feeling that these two would be difficult to like.

So, I was a little surprised when I saw them interacting on a Youtube video recently and found them both to be pleasantly engaging. When I first became aware of the video, I assumed I would not be able to stomach more than 5 minutes of their firery and frustrated discussion.

In the video, they were discussing their theological problems with Mormonism. Their points, though biased, were clearly and calmly presented in a tone void of sarcasm and eye-rolling. I found this to be very out of character in contrast to my previous experiences. This was bordering on civil and respectful. What was going on here?

An explanation occurred to me later that evening. There was no THEM in the conversation... there was only US. Anger, fear, and frustration were not present, because everyone in this conversation belonged. Both speakers were comfortable and at ease, because they felt safe with one another.

This experience showed to me again why the US/THEM approach to life is wounded and hobbled. When we place someone in a position of opposition, there cannot help but be feelings of unease and defensiveness. Under such emotions, it is not a far step to frustration and anger. Contempt and hatred are often the natural result.

Jesus had myriads following him happily from every walk of life and situation. People whom much of the Christian culture would define as THEM, would travel uncomfortable distances just to be near him.


Because to Jesus, everyone belonged.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

What We Believe

What we believe is highly conditional on what we have been taught.

I was listening to NPR last week and they were doing a story on Tienanmen Square. They focused on how little the present generation knows about what happened 20 years ago. The Chinese government has succeeded in making Tienanmen Square a non-topic.

They interviewed a University student in Beijing. This girl knew only a vague, government-sanitized version of the massacre. She knew that were other opinions and accounts out there, but she finds them suspect since they are promoted by westerners. She was more likely to trust her government's view.

It reminded me of the rhetoric of many of my fellow Christians. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard Christians proclaim a certain view to be lacking credibility because it was given by "the liberal media". Of course, I am no different. For me,anything said by Sean Hannity is going to be highly suspect.

What is most interesting to me is how quick we are to condemn this behavior in others, but forgive it of ourselves.

For example, Mormons will often get grief for accepting the Book of Mormon accounts of history, when archeological evidence is contrary. However, if a Christian (in my circles) takes a similar stance, this is regarded as being faithful. I saw this one evening at a bible study. There was a movie being discussed in which the body of Jesus was found. Someone asked, "What would become of your faith if such a thing happened?" One person quickly countered that he would not believe it. If he had a choice between believing the event, or believing the bible, he would believe the bible every time.

Same thought line. However, in our case it is faithfulness; for others it is foolishness.

What you believe and to what you dedicate yourself seems to be driven in large part by where you were raised. If you grew up in the American South, you will probably hold conservative evangelical views. If you were born here in Utah, you will most likely be Mormon. If you are a young person in China, you probably have a skewed view of Tienanmen Square.

As a Christian, this causes me to question the traditional views of eternity concerning heaven and hell. Under the teachings in which I was raised, it seems your eternal destiny is going to be most highly influenced on where you were born.

Well... ain't that special!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Only Obama could go to the Mid-East

A superb speech and message was given by President Obama in the Middle East today. There is a long way to go, but Obama has finally pointed us in the right direction.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Where Inflammatory Rhetoric Can Lead

By local Tribune cartoonist, Pat Bagley.

HT: Didymus

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

More Truth Project Feedback

Usually, when I get a letter from a reader of my Truth Project articles, the writer lambastes me for how I am deceiving Christians, or how I am deceived and going to Hell, or that God is going to get me, etc...

The following letter stood out in that it was systematic, and the writer asked me questions that he genuinely seemed to want a response to. I wrote him back and asked if I could answer his questions in a post. Since it was going to require a fair amount of writing on my part, I have a natural inclination to want to post. Also, I feel his questions probably address the thoughts of a number of people who would typically be supportive of the Truth Project view point. So, I have put his questions in blue italics with my answers beneath.

Mr. Hackman,

I am reading your posting on the Truth Project, and I was wondering if you could clarify a few issues for me. I am about to start a Truth Project Study.

1) You state that Christianity cannot have a worldview, and that disagreement between different groups suggest that “Many voices must be heard.” I think that the point of the study, however, is to determine what the Bible says about what our worldview should be. That is, there should be a range of what is a “reasonable” set of beliefs, and what is not, given what Scripture teaches. To determine what the relevant range of worldviews would be, however, you don’t need to interview people. You need to look at evidence. Another way of saying this is that The Truth Project is meant to be prescriptive, not descriptive. In light of this “narrowing” view of the project, why do you need to hear multiple voices? Why do you need any voices other than Scripture?

I need those voices because I do not believe that scripture speaks without them. When my theology was of a more "hell, fire, and brimstone" bent, those were the scriptures I read and those were the ones I quoted. My eyes seemed to skim past "It is your kindness that leads us to repentance".

Everyone brings their vested interests to the table. No one reads scripture cleanly or without lenses. Everyone interprets. Anyone who denies this simply desires that their view be the default view. They want to be able to play a theological trump card. When the Truth Project puts forth that there is "A" Christian worldview (theirs) they are stepping beyond their grounds. I am a Christian. I do not agree with the Truth Project overall. So either, I am not a Christian, or there must be other Christian worldviews to be heard.

It reminds me of a scene at the beginning of Gandhi. Gandhi is about to be thrown off a South African train because he will not leave first class (for being colored). He explains that he is an English lawyer and purchased his ticket at home. He is told by the conductor that there are no colored lawyers in
South Africa. Gandhi exclaims that since he is a lawyer and is, as they say, colored, then it can be surmised that there is at least ONE colored lawyer in South Africa.

Have you ever experienced a time when a scripture took on a new nuance or meaning because of something someone said? or an experience you had? Without those voices, yours as well as others, the words sit inert on the page.

2) You state “The presenter states that there is no area where God has not given the answers.” I am pretty sure that he says that there is no area where God has not SPOKEN. This is very different.

When you go through the series, see what the wording is. I thought he said answers, but I could be wrong. In any case, I don’t think that God has spoken clearly on everything (if he had, I do not think there would be 30,000+ Christian denominations and groups). I think it is our natural desire to want a sure fire answer to everything… but I think there is always going to be plenty of mystery when it comes to the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.

3) About your teacher perspective, you are right that you need to teach your students to think rather than to just get the right answers. However, you need to teach them the correct way of thinking about an issue. I am not necessarily saying that there is only one correct way to think about any given issue, but there are plenty of blatantly wrong ways to think about an issue. This is certainly true in the subject that I teach. By the way, what do you teach?

I teach 6th grade in an inner-city school.

I understand your overall point, but I would never state it so strongly. I would be very leery of teaching someone "the correct way of thinking about an issue." Not to say that I do not have a view, but I feel that any view that gets imparted in that way tends to get very distorted down the road. Again, it seems a short-cut; giving them an answer without the perspective, experience, and ethos that caused me to develop my answer.

4) I am pretty sure that when he says that the culture is anti-God, he does not mean that you should not have gone to the theater to see Dark Knight. Rather, he is saying that our culture is, by and large, built on a bunch of lies. An easy example of this is to look at the unreasonable expectations that society has for women and their bodies, how society says to a girl that she only has value if she will have sex (sorry, my wife watches Tyra, and I am overhear these things, so I have a bit of a bias). Don’t you think that a culture that teaches us that our worth is built on such frivolous things rather than being children of God is, well kind of evil?

I agree that when we objectify women, or teach such things to our children, we need to change our way of thinking. However, I do not think it is simply a matter of broad brush painting present culture as evil. I think this causes us to romanticize or criticize things that are not real. For example, the “old” days are often romanticized by some conservatives when wanting to contrast how sinful our present society has become – conveniently avoiding the tolerance of abuse, slavery, racism, and oppression that was allowed in the “old” days. In that light, society has become much LESS sinful over the decades. So which is it? I would say neither, because each plank of our culture must be judged on its own.

5) Why do you think it is appropriate to quote Yoda in a religious discussion? He is a guru of a form of Eastern religion or philosophy, so what he says must be investigated in that light. I should point out that anger is not necessarily wrong, because Jesus got angry in the temple before he drove the money changers from the temple. Therefore, there is a big divide between Yoda and Jesus.

I have three thoughts on that. A.Why do you think it is inappropriate to use that quote in a religious discussion? For myself, a good quote is a good quote. You yourself state in question 10 that “Truth does not depend on who says it”.

B. My point in that section was that all of the us/them rhetoric creates a fear and paranoia… and that those emotions take Christians down a path we are not supposed to go. Jesus’ anger was not generated as a result of fear, so his end result was not along the same trajectory.

C. I do not find anything inherently wrong with Eastern views. Christianity is Eastern in its origins, we have simply Westernized it.

6) What do you mean by hate? Some in our culture want to define certain beliefs as inherently hateful, and I wanted to check what you mean. Also, you should evaluate a religion on a reasonable outcome of its beliefs, not by the abuse of its beliefs.

I consider hate to be anytime we despise someone else. That is why I have always felt that the line “Love the sinner, but hate the sin” (aside from the fact that it is not scriptural) to be so unhelpful. 99 times out of 100 when I hear someone use that line, the disdain and contempt is right on its heels. I think Christianity and the cause of Christ would be better served with “Love” and leave the but out of it. Since I have yet to adequately master the first part, I see no reason why I should touch the second.

7) Your argument that he is proof-texting is irrelevant, because John 14:6. Jesus did not say that you can look to him for truth, but something far more fundamental. He said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me.” This is a very bold statement. It says that Christ is the very definition of truth, and that all other forms of truth must be judged in light of him. This is what us math types call an axiom.

Also, when you list the other reasons that Christ came into the world, none of them contradict his interpretation. By testifying to the truth, Jesus has saved sinners. You seem to have some beef with the line in the sand. However, Del did not draw this line, Jesus did. One quick example is Matthew 25. There are clearly sheep and goats. The question is where the line is, not the existence of one.

We will just have to disagree on this one. I still contend that it is a twisting of the intent of scripture to imply that the purpose of Jesus coming was to set a truth line in the sand and shove everyone to one side or the other. In fact, I think that goes against his very nature.

As to the sheep and the goats, I think Jesus was speaking to ways of living that bring either life or death… and in the words of the OT, he wants us to choose life. If you take that story as literal, than the evangelical way of interpreting salvation goes right out the window (which I am fine with btw).

8) You are taking Romans 2 horridly out of context. Romans 1 just told the history of the world, that we all reject God. Romans 2 and 3 gets into why following the law alone is not good enough, because we are not perfect.

Actually, I agree with you in some respects. I think Romans 1 lists how we all fail (can we all not place ourselves somewhere on Paul’s list?). I just think Romans 2 is Paul’s follow up, saying how absurd it is for any of us to get too “us/them”, in light of everything he just said.

9) “Our battle is not against flesh and blood…” The Bible uses the war metaphor repeatedly. Of course, it also uses the runner, the boxer, the farmer, and others. I just thought I would point out to you that regardless of how much he uses war metaphors, any reasonable Christian would never take up arms.

That is my point… that our battles are not with flesh and blood. However, much of Christianity is, and is being encouraged, to view their fellow human beings as the enemy. I think the “us/them” rhetoric encourages this view. I believe we turn people away from Christ when they feel they are viewed in this manner.

10) Your ad hominem attack on their interviews are unjustified. I could just as easily argue that you would better understand the Bible if you were disabled, because that one kid seemed to always have the right answer. I know you are trying to strike a race tone here, but that is irrelevant. Truth does not depend on who says it.

I think if that was my only contention, you are probably right. However, it just stood out so boldly to me on top of everything else. That is why I said it “devolved into a bad caricature of itself” at that point. It just struck me humorously.

11) Us/Them thinking. Again, back to the Judgment Scene – Jesus divided the world, the project didn’t. Again, you are quoting Paul in I Tim 1:15 so as to suggest universalism. This seems really silly, given Paul’s rant against false religion earlier in the chapter.

You caught me… I am a universalist. However, I don’t think that necessarily invalidates Paul’s “rant”. Universalism does not say that everything is ok… just that everything is/will be redeemed. But in any case, I still believe strongly that us/them thinking damages the cause of Christ.

Anyway, I was just wondering how you would respond to these questions. Thanks for your time. I am sorry if some people are not nice to you in their emails. I know that there is a behavioral bias that people are harsher in email than in person. Also, some things get lost by being put into text. I hope nothing I said sounded too harsh. I sometimes write aggressive words, but that is just because I am getting excited about the discussion.



PS Looking at your profile, why do you need to “abandon your certainties?” There are some things you can take to the bank.

I abandoned my certainties because I found that so many of the things I thought were iron-clad, turned out not to be. Certainty is something our churches emphasize, and in doing so, I think we perpetuate a disservice. Certainty, very often, causes people to live in denial. They have to live in contradiction in order to keep the certainty safe. I have seen too many people jettison their faith because they were taught that Christianity operates in this or that way. When they found that not to be true, they either had to abandon the Faith, or become more fundamental and rigid than ever. I have found fidelity to be a necessary third option. Fidelity applies to relationships. It can withstand the ups and downs, the silence and the paradox, in ways that certainty simply can’t.

David – I appreciate your approach and I hope this clarifies some things. I do not seek to convert you to my way of thinking on these issues, I just hope to more clearly explain why I think the way I do.

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