Monthly Archives: September 2010

The challenges of lay theological education

In far too many cases, folks are content with the theological education they received during Sunday school, Bible Camp, confirmation, or at worse, some tv preacher who takes extreme liberties with interpretation, and for some reason doesn’t find a need to go any further. I really had no idea how widespread Biblical illiteracy was until I came across it in spades during my campaign work a couple years ago. Realistically, if the average Christian committed a mere 15 minutes every couple days to spend time in the scriptures, much of the Biblical illiteracy issue would go away. Unfortunately such an approach seems a rarity.

Optimistically, some of the problems might be due to an issue where the Holy Spirit puts fire on folks at different times, and many just arent there yet. Cynically, some may just be resisting the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and rather than being like the Berean dudes, they’d rather hear what some random tv guy has to say and take it as gospel, rather than seeing what scripture actually says..

Bible Study Groups

A few folks participate in Bible studies, and that can be pretty helpful, provided that the right environment is available. Disparaging those with sincere questions, or throwing out canned answers with little thought behind them often times leads to despair amongst some participants who then quit, leaving just a cloned group of like thinking, yet likely ineffective believers. Safe environment creation can be a major challenge, but alas for real education, and more so, for real change to occur in folks lives, it is a must.

Lastly, most Bible studies are very schedule, leader, and location dependent, as well as niche topics being impacted by the need for a critical mass. Ie, as much as I’d like to do a study on Sabellianism, I dont think I’d find many takers in Southeast MN.

Ministry Volunteers

For ministry volunteers, most people approach theological education from an informal learning point of view. Case in point, most Sunday school teachers rely on the included teacher aids (directed informal learning), plus prior education experiences, both formal(confirmation courses, from often many years ago) and informal(some small group Bible studies). The difficulty of such an approach is that it often does little to mitigate knowledge gaps beyond the material at hand, and secondly, its often not very time efficient.

Universitys and Seminarys

And of course, there is also the formal university, or seminary course of study. Such a course of study might include 20 different courses, which would total nearly 900 hours of classroom time, plus another 1800-2700 hours outside of class. Obviously the problems of time/schedule availability, finances, and the rather intense motivation required, preclude such for the majority of people. In addition, there is an assumption of an initial level of competence before starting down the path, and sadly, the necessary administrative hoop jumping needed anytime the word university or seminary is bantered about. Also, geography can play a role, in that the logistics may make such near impossible for many.

The average Joe in the middle

Thus, many folks are sort of in the middle, they have a zest for knowledge beyond what they see right at hand, but the aforementioned problems of formal study, just put such way beyond the scope of their current situation. As a result, the default learning mode for many is a series of books, often disjointed, some online discussions with peers, and in some cases anti-peers… and many years of feeling like they are pounding on sand, most noticeably, when they run up on the aforementioned knowledge gaps.

Opportunities abound online

The internet has opened some doors which may be beneficial. New podcasts, forums discussions, blogs, videos, wikis, and other user generated content appear every day, a great deal of it in the faith arena. Such content does have the potential to improve faith literacy… but it comes at a cost of the user having to sort out where the author may be coming from, as well as whats really important, both of which can be tricky to navigate. Ie, a dispensationalist may well be lost in covenant land, as would be the reverse, to say nothing of a Trinitarian in non-trin land.

Running afoul

Along that line of thinking, there is also the issue of unknowingly running afoul of ones denominational constructs. Its one thing to sit down and go through a Mormon course of study to understand where they are coming from, its another thing to do so inadvertently and find oneself embracing modalism. A similar deal would be a Lutheran mixed up with semi-Pelagianism, a Catholic embracing pre-tribulation eschatology, or an Arminian embracing Calvinism. Discernment can become a big deal pretty fast… If this was business, its almost bait and switch land, as often times one doesn’t get into troublesome aspects, until one is in the middle of a course of study. Again, no problem if one walks in with eyes wide open… but getting blindsided is another story.

Efficiency of Learning, Stickiness and Feedback

Another aspect is efficiency of learning. Most folks say, “whoa, I’d really like to know about topic abcde, but I just dont have the time” Perhaps they will read a book, or maybe an online essay and while such is helpful, it often times leaves some major holes, and far too often doesn’t stick too well.

Part of the efficiency of learning as well as the stickiness issue is the aspect of feedback… in far too many self study approaches, and even with online components, its lacking. I think everyone has had a favorite teacher who made learning simple, much of the time, such is feedback related. It may be motivation, tailoring presentation to the needs of the individual student, it may include periodic assessment, followed by extra help in ones weak areas, or it could even be acceleration through a course of study.

Feedback is vital for learning. If one is time starved, to skip feedback and assessment is a false economy, as without it, one often ends up running at much lower efficiency, or at worse, followed a rabbit trail in error, and thus has to go back and relearn things all over again.

Thus, a whole multitude of problems exist in theological education… the good thing is, most of them are solvable with the tools at hand, many of which are relatively recent and low cost developments. The two big questions that remain are… why hasnt anyone solved them?, or at least given said tools a good shot, and if they have, why have we not heard of it?

Congregational Beliefs do Matter

Distinct congregational beliefs do matter, and they do so in a huge way… not as a means of excluding or downplaying anothers beliefs, or worse for trying to convert another Christian/sheep steal, but as guides for mutual edification and mission. The thing is, in todays society, choosing a congregation is rarely theology related, and in some cases, ones congregation may well hold beliefs significantly different than ones personally held ones.

Lance presents an analysis which is right on the money for many people.

….most people come to a particular congregation because it is close, or because a friend invited them, or the worship style seemed intriguing. Once they are there, they stay because they like something about it–the music, the preaching, the friendly people, or yes, they believed as if they were truly worshipping the Triune God. In terms of theology, or the way one congregation reads the Bible versus another, denominational affiliation seems to have less to do with the matters these days. Even if I preached for a solid year on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, no one is leaving the congregation because they disagree with the Real Presence…

Lance is right on the money for many folks, and I’ve got a future entry on that in the queue, as his statement hits home for me as well. For now, I just want to focus on why beliefs matter and how to work things through when they dont. Obviously, little of this is going to fly with the ardent confessional / traditional parishioner… but then, said folks typically would not get involved in a congregation other than one that exactly mirror their own beliefs, and thus dont fit the demographic this post was written for.

Faith Density

A congregation needs at least a minimum level of faith density for the lack of a better term to avoid mixed messages, or in some cases pastoral dependency. Informal teaching of faith is a huge part of the edification of one another. Sure, in Sunday school or confirmation, a person may learn ABCD… but it hits home in a huge way, when ABCD is brought up and reinforced by a random member of a congregation outside of the formal classroom. Of course, I must admit such is a bit idealistic too… Biblical literacy, to say nothing of denominational literacy is often lacking in the pew, pretty much no matter what denomination one hangs out at.

Bolstering faith density when not aligned

If one makes a decision to hang out at a denomination where ones beliefs dont align real well, rightly handling that denominations beliefs requires a whole lot more personal responsibility than say for those who happened to grow up within said denomination. By not aligning real well, I’m referring to issues for the most part outside of the most centered part of Gospel. The most obvious example would be those beliefs beyond the scope of the Apostles or Nicene Creeds. Ie for churches who ascribe to such either literally, or to the scriptures themselves which back up said creeds. The issue goes back to the aforementioned faith density and mixed message thing. Rightly handling things imho requires diligent effort to find out where a congregation and pastor are coming from, what is mission critical for them, and how one might best help with that mission.

Focus on the common elements

While one may have strong feelings as to the perseverance of the saints, or lack there of or any number of other beliefs… sending out mixed messages over such as a non-adhering person of a congregation does little to edify bonafide members. Rather, building up one another in the things which are common, and especially the things which do serve to center one another is more appropriate. Its one thing to be asked, and to prayerfully respond with humility as concerns a countering belief. It is another deal entirely to intentionally dilute the theology of a congregation from within, no matter how strong one adheres to a theology. This is not to say one should bury their beliefs… but more so, when in fellowship, the center of the Gospel is the big deal, how one when gets there much less so.

Service can be tricky

Service can be a tricky deal at times if one ends up as a teacher or leading a Bible study… but then even within a congregation where one fully aligns with the beliefs, sometimes curricula writers may end up really pushing the limits too. Many years ago, I remember teaching on the early church fathers during 8th grade Sunday school… at the time, it was sort of Argh… but I think I grew as much or more so than my students. More recently, when I was sort of functioning as a Catholic apologist in an ecumenical context, one fellow said I should be teaching RCIA, at least, until I told him I wasnt Catholic… but it sure was an incredible learning experience. Such roles can serve as platforms for massive growth, even if ones beliefs are not aligned… but obviously such needs to be fully squared away with the pastor ahead of time.

Know where your faith is

When one attends a church whose beliefs do not align, 3 possible things can happen. First, doing such could lead to incredible growth, which has been my experience, but I think such is rare. Secondly, such could create massive confusion, which in some cases has led folks astray in a huge way. Third, one could simply decide to change their beliefs to align with said church, or more likely, discern that their beliefs have changed to reflect those of said church.

If we consider how low Biblical and denominational literacy is… the second and third scenarios tend to be more likely. While I’m personally very pleased and aligned with the ELCA’s theological pov’s, theological ideology pales in comparison with following Christ. If a person grows closer to God as Baptist, WELS, Catholic, Presbyterian, or Methodist… by all means that is where they should be. Thus, the third outcome, ie ones beliefs become aligned with their new church, and they grow closer to Christ as a result… that is a wonderful thing!

On the other hand, if coming across different scriptural interpretations causes confusion, doubt, and such starts to become a barrier between an individual and Jesus… then they should flee from that place, and return to their beginning, no matter how many outside factors may have led them to pursuing a different church.

Growth, namely the first outcome is what I’ve found to be incredibly cool… I’ve put in time in just about every Trinitarian denomination out there. Each one has brought another aspect of Christ and my walk with Him to light, and for that I am exceedingly thankful. By the same token, the challenges to my own beliefs along the way have served to strengthen them, as well as widen them. In many ways, we really are not all that different, albeit in a few others, surprisingly so.

Hard Decks / Denominations, Do we need them?

A common saying, and in a lot of ways a sad one is… we dont need a denomination, we just need Jesus. The concept of not needing denominations seems laudible, ie ditch the denominational baggage, and just focus on Christ.

Denominational Baggage?

In practice though, denominational baggage is often simply replaced with a picking and choosing of historical theological points of view in so called *non-denominational churches. Where the rubber hits the road to speak, is how tightly such views are held too within the church as a unit. For example, if a church rigorously holds to the perseverance of the saints, ie once saved, always saved and comes down very hard on those who hold that folks can loose their salvation… in reality, all the baggage of perseverance of the saints exists, just as it would in a denomination who holds such views. In a lot of ways, a non-denominational approach can be even trickier to navigate. More often than not, its not just one theological construct, but rather multiples that swing back and forth across many lines.

By the same token, if one suggests perseverance of the saints or lack there of doesn’t matter, such that no baggage is associated with it, where then where does one draw the line? How many theological constructs can be stripped away before Jesus ends up missing parts? How low can faith density go before edification becomes more frustrating than fruitful? How many points of view can be stripped away before edification becomes near impossible due to mixed messages and/or fear of offense? How can one preach the Gospel effectively without any hard decks? What is the absolute minimum needed… and how many other hard deck theological stances beyond that minimum are practical?

A baseline of belief?

If we look to history, the Nicene Creed whether by agreement, or by agreement with the scriptures upon which it is based can easily serve as a baseline hard deck for many, but not all. Ie some Christians do take issue with some of the hard decks presented… but short of 5 or so somewhat contentious issues, baptism, apostolic succession, the filioque, Chiliasm, Nestorianism, the rest of scripture underlying the Nicene Creed is something many Christians can comfortably hang their hat on.

Otoh, there are multitudes of disputed theologies well beyond the Nicene Creed. Some might be inclined to put many of those under the we see dimly concept, others bound conscience. However, when it comes to differing theology, we still run into the problem of edification of one another. Bound conscience may allow one to go a bit beyond mere tolerance to love for folks who lean towards pietism, pseudo-goddess worship, pentacostalism, PALMSGR’s or even the prosperity gospel somewhere within the wider church. Otoh, if one runs into such in the pew and its counter to ones own belief’s, mutual edification is compromised at best, or totally counterproductive at worst.

Social Issues can play a role too

There are also social issues, which seemingly should pare in comparison… but as I myself found out a couple weeks back, perhaps not. The problem shows up when it comes to funding and participation in mission. Ie, if one holds that Jesus instructions were for us to care for any poor person we come across vs caring only a poor believer in fellowship, and the rest of the poor are not our problem… then there will be no small amount of contention if others hold to the belief that Jesus commands were for us to assist any and all poor people. This is especially the case when it comes to funds allocation and/or participation.

So what about being unequally yoked?

This is often where things get tricky… Taken to an extreme, to avoid confusion and error, some folks from WELS and LCMS while more than willing to help out with secular needs will not worship nor even pray with synods other than their own. Taken to the other extreme, many Christians are more than willing to effective serve as Mormon missionaries in pursuit of a moral tenants shared with Mormons. Within the ELCA and our full communion agreements, even with some reformed churches, officially we dont have any problems with many other groups.. yet, I also admit being concerned with the magnitude of Calvinistic beliefs showing up within much ELCA dialog as of late.

My personal thought is that cross polination is a good thing… but one should be grounded in their beliefs, and must be diligent in keeping their eyes open as to the belief system they are yoking up with. Mutual edification is indeed possible, and in a lot of ways, such can be a period of incredible growth. Case in point… the vast majority of my blog entries are initially conceived in a Catholic adoration chapel, and the priests homily last Saturday mentioned the Assembly of God church sign across the street.

However, far too many Christians dont really know what they believe. They end up being yanked here and yon, tossed by the wind and the waves… Perhaps Mormon beliefs dont seem all that different, perhaps US Evangelical beliefs dont seem all that different. Perhaps such folks dont understand that the 4 spiritual laws dont fit within Lutheran theology, nor does decision nor rapture eschatology. Grounding in ones faith is critical… and that can cross any and all denominational lines. If you are a Baptist, be a good one, if you are Catholic, be a good one, if you are ELCA, be a good one… dont just go and flow here or there like a meandering stream.

Love is really the answer

Ultimately, we should rejoice and love one another, despite all these differences, because we are on the side of Christ. How we go about worship, interpreting scripture, and living out our faith can vary widely. In some cases, its a dim view,in others, its theology or social issues at odds such that bound conscience can bring us to love one another despite the differences. In other cases, situations do exist which are beyond bound conscience, and thus would preclude tight fellowship in ministry… but no way no how should that cause us not to love one another.

And this love for one another in Christ is whats cool, is why its easy to say… we dont need denominations, even if underlying it all there are some pretty massive disconnects, and the hard decks, whether defined via denomination or something else really do matter. Yes, perhaps we can’t work tightly together within a ministry context… but there are massive arenas where we most certainly can, and despite such disconnects, Christ enables us to show our love for Him and one another.

*This is not in any means meant to disparage non-denominational churches. I’ve never come across one that didnt hold to some very solid hard decks when it came to their beliefs. More so, its to show that specific beliefs/hard decks do matter and are needed, irrespective of whether one chooses to assign the adjective denominational or not. Also, I purposely used perseverance of the saints as a theological construct, as it is a commonly held pov within many non-denominational churches.

God Helps those who Help Themselves NOT!

God helps those who help themselves is one of those goofy sayings… besides being counter to scripture, its absolutely hilarious to consider it was coined by a deist. Ie, deists believe God set things in motion, and then leaves things along… in other words, in the deist view, God isn’t going to help no matter what. If anything, the deist, Ben Franklin sent a whole lot of people down the wrong path

Contrast such with scripture.

Proverbs 28:26 “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,But he who walks wisely will be delivered”

Jeremiah 17:5 “Thus says the LORD, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind And makes flesh his strength, And whose heart turns away from the LORD.”

Romans 5: 6-8 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Or in this upcoming Sunday’s lectionary Luke 16:19-31, paraphrased by one of @jbonewalds followers… Mr “God Helps” starved to death at a rich mans gate. (Lazarus=”God Helps”)

Granted, we aren’t supposed to sit back, blow off God and our neighbors… but God’s love for us is not predicated on what we do, or dont do.

Worship as an Excuse

Travis over at oldworshipnew is onto something big! The emphasis of the individual, and the de-emphesis of the community when it comes to worship. Granted, the proverbial, I can worship God on my boat, or in the woods is clearly an individual thing… Yet, consider the following comments that are often heard. “Wow, I was really in the spirit at last Sunday’s service” or “Sunday morning sucked, I didnt get a single thing out of the service”. Whether it be the boat, or the above post worship commentary, the focus is on the individual.

This is a sad deal, as worship is not just the individual, but a number of other factors enter in as well. Travis brought up worship being linked to mission, and to accountability. I’ll go a bit further, and link worship to love and engagement of the community. Its easy to say one loves one’s community of faith, but to love and engage them means really knowing that someones kid didnt eat last night, someone else is failing at uni, and yet another is fearful that they find they can no longer drive safely.

A multitude of years ago, I attended a pretty massive church… 900+ folks at each service, and I knew perhaps 4 folks, and only 1 really well, and that was because he was one of my professor friends apart from church. In a whole lot of ways, I had set up my own personal space right in the midst of 900 other folks many of whom did likewise. Sure the sermons rocked, and we did have corporate absolution, the Eucharist, and during the prayers obviously many parishioners were prayed for… but I never knew who they were, much less could I identify them in the church, much much much less could I recognize them out and about in the community at large

There is no question that corporate absolution, the Eucharist, and communal prayers are a big deal (as are sermons that rock). Yet, beyond such matters, I never made any effort to engage with the community. The saddest part is, I could have easily sat back, and done the same thing for many years… well beyond the 3 years I was there.

The thing is… engagement is messy, worldviews get rolled, scriptural assumptions get challenged, and things are neither simple, easy, nor fast. It takes work, sort of like discipleship, or maybe a whole lot like discipleship. The challenge of a sermon is a good thing… but how much more to also accept the challenge of a community. Its as if I was saying to Jesus, ok, cool challenge me in the sermon, but I’ll pass on the part about actually applying it for real in the community of faith. In effect, I was using worship as an excuse to avoid a call to discipleship.

To the North American Church, An 8th letter

You have done much in the last 200 years…. You made Me the center of your communities and your lives. You pulled together, not just in single churches, but multitudes of churches to serve the least of these. You built schools so that many could learn and get out of poverty, even for those who do not know me. You built schools so your young folks could learn about Me, and that my words would be impressed upon their hearts. You built hospitals for healing for all, even for those who did not believe in me.

Yet, you have slowed down, or in some cases you have stopped. Your young, and even your old know more of me from questionable fiction books and television stories than they know of My word. You waver like the wind to each new preacher or cause which seems righteous in your eyes. In some cases, you even uphold those preaching of another god. In other cases, righteous causes are upheld, yet My name and power have been stripped away. Do you no longer love Me?

You still do some good works, yet, you hide my power, and often relegate Me to a single room in your hospitals. You remove nearly all traces of Me, short of one of my saints names, or My mothers name on the cornerstone. You have exceedingly learned people in your schools that are associated with My name… yet, you nearly require they do not instruct the students as to My word, or how they can grow in discipleship. Do you no longer love Me?

Why have you split your world into 2 parts? Loving Me is great, Loving your neighbor is likewise… but woe to those who deny Me and Love their neighbor, as well as woe to those who Love me, but deny their neighbor. Woe to those who misuse My word to intentionally offend their neighbor. Woe to those who misuse My word to justify hating their neighbor.

eighthletterbanner

 

The above is my entry in the eighth letter project as well as the eight letter syncroblog. A description from the eighth letter website.

The book of Revelation contains seven letters addressed to 1st century congregations struggling to find their identity. Nearly two thousand years later we are asking some of the world’s leading thinkers, people you’ve never heard of and, well…you: what is your message for the Church in North America?

You’ve got 15 minutes to communicate your most pressing message to the Church. What will you say?

The Scalability of Empowered Laity

An empowered laity leadership model provides for viral Christianity, because it is inherently scalable. It scales, as each empowered lay person proceeds to empower another lay person. The process then repeats over and over.

In contrast a professional clergy model unless carefully designed is self limiting. Ie, if a church plant requires a fixed percentage of a professional clergypersons time, the reach of that professional clergyperson is limited by the time available, divided by the needs of the individual church plants. However, if designed appropriately, say a multiplier of professional clergy model, each church plant would then serve to create one or more professional clergy, who would then go out and build other church plants, and the process would repeat over and over.

In many ways, the multiplier of professional clergy was the model of the early Lutheran church on the prairie. The first seminary at Halfway Creek, La Crosse County, WI had two professors, and eleven students, and it built from there. Its interesting to note that the professional seminary program lasted seven years in 1881, albeit it appears students started the program at a pre-college age.

The first churches on the prairie had a professional clergy person who visited them every few weeks. In the mean time, lay people had to run the day to day things, as a professional clergy person was not available. A series of newspapers and clergy conferences were the ways in which the work of the professional clergy was scaled in between visits.

As a result, the only way for the church to function at all was through empowered laity. There were far too few professional clergy to provide for anything other than the clergy multiplier model, and perhaps one of the most amazing things was how well it worked. Churches not only were planted multifold and additional clergy trained, but their congregations then proceeded to build schools, to build hospitals and to massively serve their neighbor.

Sadly, as time passed, things changed. Rather than the local congregation working with others to build schools, seminaries, and planting churches many struggle just to keep up their own infrastructure. Rather than funding one of their own to become a pastor, its now up to the individual to pay up the nose should God be calling them. In order to plant a church, many years of additional clergy experience beyond the mdiv are required. Rather than hard core Christian curricula during high school, including Greek and Hebrew, confirmation which pretty much starts and ends with the small Catechism becomes the end all for far too many. Imagine how well trained the laity might be, if they were equipped and called upon to translate the book of Matthew by age 18?

So, how might we apply the lessons of the professional clergy multiplier today?

Diversity concerns appeared not to be a big thing at the time… it was not unusual to find churches with differing beliefs within a synod only a short distance apart. In some cases, less than a mile. It might have been doctrinal distinctives, or languages, practices, or any number of other issues.

In many ways, I think the mega church with its focus on small groups provides for a similar method of birds of a feather to flock together, albeit under an executive pastor, not unlike the multitude of individual small churches under one clergyman during the early days on the prairie.

The professional clergy multiplier model enabled the clergy to focus on the big things… not the everyday issues which proceed to eat up any and all energy and time for far too many today.

The laity were forced to take responsibility and even when they were way outside their scope, necessity forced action. Things might have been far from perfect… but much was accomplished with minimal professional clergy oversight.

If indeed the prognosticators are correct, and that we will have an excess of pastors… perhaps rather than pastoring, teaching becomes the primary role for some of them. Imagine if we had high school students who were versed in Greek to a level that they could translate the book of Matthew? Imagine if some mdiv grads who loved to teach had a model where they could teach grad level material to the laity as well as being compensated for such teaching?

Imagine if we had something like a on call Christian Emergency Response Team of lay chaplains, that was textable 24 hours a day for spiritual needs anywhere in their community? Think of how many clergy about freaked out in CPE, being it was not their calling… yet how many lay people just might thrive in such an environment?

Leaving the 99 Behind

@Tragic_Pizza hit on leaving the 99 behind in his sermon for yesterday… He said if a pastor were to do such, they’d likely get fired. Can you imagine the outrage if a Sunday service was delayed, as pastor got an emergency call to save a soul? Or what if the bee charmer and crew from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes went cruising around your church to create a ruckus, and pastor stepped out to tell them about Jesus rather than getting his 22 minute sermon done in the proper time slot?

On a less dramatic stance… could a congregation thrive if truly left in the wilderness for a bit? Is faith density high enough for them not to be tossed about by the wind and waves? Could they deal with the wolves from outside, but also from within should there be some in their midst?

My read of scripture is that the body of believers should be more than strong enough to withstand such, perhaps even strong enough to grow… and that leaving the 99 to go after the 1 is something to be desired, not something in which the shepherd should be fired over.

In a lot of ways, contemporary congregational responses to leaving the 99 mirrors the brother who did everything his father asked in the parable of the prodigal son… The congregation would scream bloody murder if the pastor allocated resources to find the 1, and then even more so to celebrate his/her return with church resources… “Egads, how can this be? We’ve been doing everything right for years, how can pastor take our tithes and offerings and reward the one who returned, especially after that dude blew what we gave him on prostitutes and beer? Thats setting a wrong example for our youngsters… The pastor is way out of touch with this love and forgiveness thing, the returning son needs a thrashing, not a celebration… plus he owes us money to boot!

Its a good thing God doesn’t work that way, or all of us would be in a world of hurt. We are never good enough, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God… but God’s love and His Grace are exceedingly powerful, and encompassing. We absolutely should be celebrating the pastor who goes forth for the one, and then even more so celebrating the return of the prodigal.

Apart from the World, Legalism or Love….

There are two ways in which Christians could set themselves apart from the world, love and legalism. Legalism gets most of the press, most legalism, even with good intentions is counterproductive, and in the worlds eyes, legalistic Christians end up looking like hypocritical fools. The thing is, legalism is a whole lot easier to preach on, and much much easier to engage in than to love…

If we loved in the way as portrayed by Hugh Hollowell’s talk at big tent Christianity… we’d not only stand apart from the world in a huge way, but we would mirror the scriptures concerning, folks seeing our good works, and glorifying our Father in heaven. It could be a massive witness. The problem is that non-outsourced love is hard, its challenging and its culturally difficult to really engage and get dirty. Legalism otoh is super simple and easy.

From Hugh’s talk

We outsource our compassion to the soup kitchens, to the clothing closets, to the homeless shelters. On Thanksgiving day, we load the youth group up in the van, to go feed the “less fortunate”, so the kids can be “exposed” to poverty, while never giving thought to wonder what they do for food the other 364 days of the year. And if that thought come up, we quickly suppress that thought and write a check. We outsource it…..

…..Jesus told us the poor would always be with us – but we don’t really want the poor among us – we want someone else to handle that.

Last year in the US, some 17 million kids went to bed hungry. 17 million. In a nation where we throw away 40% of all the food we buy, where 1 in three of us is obese, and yet children are laying in bed, hungry. How can this happen?

Because none of those kids know you.

Because if you knew a kid who was hungry, you would move heaven and hell to get that kid some food. But because those 17 million kids don’t know you, they laid in bed last night, hungry.

Your choice… legalism or love.

Math Models and God

Some folks are all bent out of shape over Stephen Hawkings new book, where in God may not be needed for the creation of the universe… Folks, when things are boiled down to the minimum, physics is math modeling on steroids. Christian, do you really think you need to plug God in as a variable? And if so, how many dimensions do you really need to put God in a box, such that said box will fit in a math model?

Fwiw, I’m glad God isnt needed within such a model of creation. If He were, then the model is likely totally hosed up and worse, it means we’ve succeeded in putting God into a box, and assigning a variable to Him. I’ll take Stephen Hawking’s approach any day over doing such.

Granted, some folks take any and all discussion beyond a literal 6000 year old earth as an attack on their faith. Some folks take major issue with evolution in any form, even theistic evolution as an attack on their faith. My response is… do you put your faith in creation theories, Genesis being 100% literal, or do you put your faith in Christ.

The dangerous stuff is not the “God is not here” type deals, it is the seemingly innocuous stuff like which on the surface seems very right, but has subtle enough twisting to seriously lead one from loving God or loving one’s neighbor. Angels of light can appear very righteous and proper, the trouble lies in the twisting and minutia. Just look at how Satan tempted Jesus… I wonder how contemporary society would fair if put to the similar tests?