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A Lamp in the Dark, The Untold History of the Bible

Earlier this week I watched “A Lamp in the Dark, The Untold History of the Bible”. Its available for free on youtube, and is pretty fascinating. Alas, it is not without serious problems.

The biggest issue is the overwhelming anti-Catholic bias and selective one sided cherry picking against them, all the while completely failing to mention similar issues on the protestant side.

With respect to Constantine, “If Constantine were a true believer, how could he turn and persecute other Christians?” and all the while Calvin’s murders of fellow Christians was strangely absent in the presentation.

The video also states that the crusades began, not as an assault upon witches, or upon Muslims, but upon Bible believing Christians, namely the Albigenses.

Now, this is where things really go off the rails…

If Albigenses are Bible believing Christians, then the Bible must ascribe not to a trinitarian God, but rather two different gods, namely the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and a second god of evil. Likewise, it must hold to Jesus as being a good moral example, and not part of the trinity.

Those are really severe errors… and while the Albigenses did address a number of issues where the Catholic church was running off the rails, the film only focuses on the parts they got right, not the fact that they were far from orthodox Christianity in basic beliefs.

And this is where things are super strange. The Waldensians, earlier peers of the Albigenses did hold to orthox Christianity, and in most ways, one could say they were Bible believers. The problem is one of chronology screwing up the anti-catholic narrative surrounding the inquisition, or in giving the documentary writers the benefit of a doubt, a truly massive fail at fact checking.

And that is what is so sad about this… this could have been a really great documentary, but when such obvious errors are made, everything becomes suspect, some of it hilariously so. Things like the emergent church being a catholic conspiracy are crazy making, or in a similar vein being upset that the American Bible Society presented Pope Benedict with a polyglot Bible.

 

Christian Unity and Uniformity of Beliefs

You know trouble is on the horizon, when someone says, the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it without truly thinking things through. The Bible says a ton of stuff for sure… alas man’s leaning towards self-deception, man’s inability to see things clearly, and our old Adam zest for power muddies the water a great deal when it comes to how we interpret what the Bible says. 33,000 is a figure often quoted as to the number of distinct Christian belief systems… and yet within those belief structures, when you start asking questions at the pew level, you will often find even greater diversity.

Did God intend for potentially millions of different interpretations of the scriptures?

Genesis 11 suggests God has issues with too much like minded thinking. Ie, God’s confusion of languages and scattering of peoples with respect to the construction of the tower of Babel.

And yet, we have Jesus prayer for unity in John 17…

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one,Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

So what gives with this… is God changing his tune, or do we have something hosed up in how we are reading this?

I think the answer in part is the trinity.

One issue in The Shack film, is the bit where in papa had the marks of the cross. For theological nerds, this heresy known as patripassionism is problematic as it makes the Son and The Father one, rather than 2 distinct persons. Ie, within the teachings of the trinity, Jesus is God, the Father is God, but Jesus is not the Father, nor is the Father, Jesus. For many folks though, this distinction is probably glossed over… on the surface it seems we theological nerd types may as well be arguing over how many angels will fit on the tip of a pin.

But this is key… the Father and Jesus are distinct persons. Consider John 17:22-23 taken to an extreme, is Jesus suggesting that we are to be God in the above text too?

And while I don’t necessarily think God’s plan was to have millions of interpretations of the scriptures, I think its also pretty clear his thoughts on being one do not equate to 100% uniformity in beliefs either. Consider the later part of Galatians 3 where Paul talks about oneness in Christ, there is no Jew nor Greek…. and yet Romans 11 is pretty clear that he didn’t throw the old covenant away with the bathwater either.

Its also helpful to ponder 1 Cor 13, where it talks about us seeing dimly, and the passing of gifts, ages, and time as well as growth in Christ.

And yet, people can have a intense need for certainty. Struggles with the mysteries of faith can become really hard at times…  The whole bit about working out your salvation with fear and trembling is not really applicable to the dude the Samaritan found alongside the road, the pilot who came within seconds of death, or the husband whose wife just died in his arms. In those times, Jesus is reaching out, just as he did for Peter, but it may not feel like such…

And while we do have certainty in the resurrection… the error is one where in we take said certainty from beyond the scriptures into our personal and/or tribal interpretations of said scriptures. Consider what could happen if one built their faith on rapture theology, and then learned about Darby later in life where in things start to unravel. And while basing ones relationship on the rapture is an extreme… building God into an exclusive box of ones own making generally doesn’t work out too well.

And for the box rattling that The Shack film brings about I am grateful.

Valley Girl is Best (rabbit hole and nerd alert)

I’ve been using the WEB (not internet, but World English Bible) translation since ~2004 when I first got it for my palm pilot. Today was the first time ever that the use of metric units stood out. Pastor was reading John 11, and I was following along on my Palm… and she reads “about 2 miles” where as mine said about 2.7 km in John 11:17

Ok, so we have a big problem.

2miles = 3.2km, not 2.7km,

Certainly, I’ve often used the phrase, its about 2 miles (which in my own parlance generally equates to between 1 and 3 miles), but maybe its been years since I went there, so maybe its between just out of sight and 5 miles away… but I would never use the word about followed by significant digits which imply a level of precision beyond the scope of “about”. Yep, its a metrology nerd thing.

Granted, this is not a huge theological deal, as the scriptures are not a surveyors manual or scientific textbook, but obviously something is hosed up somewhere or another. So its time to derust some Greek.

Fortunately ?? ??? ??????? ????????? is common among all the Greek source texts I could find, so its a good starting point.

?? is a screwball adverb which hosed me up in Greek class some 20+ years ago. As such, lets consider it in isolation first to see what spins out. (Greek words in isolation are like playing with fire… its almost always going to give you something hairbrained and wrong, (but such can also be sort of cool at times)! 🙂

The simplest approach to this is to go into valley girl mode.
Bethany was near Jerusalem, like 2 miles away. 

Alas, simple is not necessarily correct, ?? when used in combination with numerical data changes meaning… Like turns into about, or nearly, which to me slips into the realm of lower precision such as my own parlance as described above.

Ok, cool, we now have the translation pastor used
Bethany was near Jerusalem, about 2 miles away.

But… this doesn’t help me as to why the metric conversion is in error, to say nothing about the precision implied with the significant digit (the decimal place), thus back to the source texts.

??? has a multitude of possibilities, but the good thing is that no matter how weird one gets with the possible translation, it doesn’t screw with the precision of measurement or type of units. We got lucky with this. I’ll just call it “away” to make like simple, but “off” works, as would “distant”… but one could venture into weird mode too I guess.

??????? ????????? is pretty simple, there is no ambiguity of the number of units of measurement. Fifteen is fifteen is fifteen. It is what it is.  ??????? as a unit of measure is also quite clear. A stadia is a stadia is a stadia. This too is clear.

Bethany was near Jerusalem, about 15 stadia away.

The rubber hits the road when we define what on a earth a stadia is…

The ancient world didn’t have international standards bodies to determine consistency of measurements… they probably didn’t have much of a standard at all, beyond what could be carried from point A to point B without being damaged, lost, or vandalized enroute. Thus we have a ~30% swing as to stadia to meter conversion factors with the Olympic measurement at 176.4 meters being the shortest, and the Phoenician-Egyptian conversion at 209.2 meters being the longest. The most commonly accepted conversion factor is the Italian one at 184.8 meters/stadia… which gives us.

Bethany was near Jerusalem, about 2.6km away.

argh, this doesn’t match either.

So, lets get practical, and just use technology, it should be easy to pull up Jerusalem and Bethany (Al-Eizariya) on a map and have google calculate the distance. Whoops. this is not going to work either, as both are so large today, that its near impossible to determine accurate starting and ending points…. not the least of which that Al-Eizariya is located in the West Bank (where google sat data leans sparse).

Valley Girl mode seems best after all… Bethany was near Jerusalem, like 3km away!


Street Preaching, 2nd Use Disconnect, and Questioning

When a receptive Christian back story is missing, some approaches to evangelism no longer work very well. I think of the street preacher discussion on @JimHazelwood video set from the New England Synod Assembly. The street preacher could have just as easily been trying to sell gold plated buggy whips to a person who just brought a brand new car. He was seemingly manufacturing things out of thing air and was trying to sell them as obvious truths.

Consider this attempted 2nd use of the law for another example

“…this opening of ourselves up to question is central to our Christian duty. Near the heart of the Christian message is the declaration that we are in the wrong, that our subjective position is radically compromised, and that we must be put to rights by someone else.”

Without a framework of the a specific type of evangelical Christianity underneath, this verbiage outside of the scriptures could just as well have been a foreign language.

Granted, its easy to see the dark triad to say nothing of the theology of original sin in the world, but without serious reflection, it is for the most part non-obvious on a individual level today. In some ways, presenting the God-man gap as the first step of evangelism is easily perceived as something manufactured and an end justifies the means to gain converts and their money. I don’t think it computes all that well anymore as a first step, and perhaps not even at all until much later.

God Man Gap

Professor John Hoffmeyer expands on this a bit.

 ….I’m now wondering if we are offering an answer to a question that is no longer being asked.  Is that possible?  Let me be clear, I am not questioning our theological structure, nor am I doubting our core understanding of Justification by Grace through Faith.  Rather, I’m raising the possibility, that in the 16th century people did experience, feel, think about and have a “terrified conscience”, and therefore Luther’s re-forming of the faith resonated culturally as well as theologically.  Our panelists may suggest that in the 21st century people are not experiencing, thinking or feeling a strong sense of having a “terrified conscience.”  If this is the case, we may be providing answers to a question few are asking.

This lack of alignment begs quite a bit of wrestling and pondering. I came across the following and the author puts in words what I’ve been trying to nail down out for weeks.

The wrong questions force reality into ill-fitting frameworks of understanding. People who take the appropriateness of their questions for granted are people who presume the universal applicability of their terms of understanding, of their ways of perceiving and framing the world, not alert to the possibility that reality might only be rightly understood on quite different terms.

One could take this a couple different ways. One path might be to double down and try to bend the seekers reference frames to a 16th century model prior to engaging them. Such often falls into the domain of the fire and brim stone street preacher. Ie, first create an environment where a person aligns with Luther’s terrified conscience model prior to the Gospel, to drive folks to ask the “right” and canned answerable questions. Anecdotal evidence suggests this does work some of the time. Other anecdotal evidence suggests bending as an ends justifying the means thing doesn’t last, as the re-framing eventually springs back to normalcy, ie its a borderline theology of glory.

The other possibility is to consider that a near exclusive 16th century framing is not really viable in the 21st century. Luther seemed to consider that in his commentary on Galatians 5:8, not by throwing the terrified conscience out completely, but by making it situational.

Satan will circumvent the Gospel and explain Christ in this his own diabolical way: “Indeed Christ is meek, gentle, and merciful, but only to those who are holy and righteous. If you are a sinner you stand no chance. Did not Christ say that unbelievers are already damned? And did not Christ perform many good deeds, and suffer many evils patiently, bidding us to follow His example? You do not mean to say that your life is in accord with Christ’s precepts or example? You are a sinner. You are no good at all.”

Satan is to be answered in this way: The Scriptures present Christ in a twofold aspect. First, as a gift. “He of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.” (I Cor. 1:30.) Hence my many and grievous sins are nullified if I believe in Him. Secondly, the Scriptures present Christ for our example. As an exemplar He is to be placed before me only at certain times. In times of joy and gladness that l may have Him as a mirror to reflect upon my shortcomings. But in the day of trouble I will have Christ only as a gift. I will not listen to anything else, except that Christ died for my sins.

Granted, one might suggest this is only a third law type of thing, ie only for believers, and that 16th century framing is an absolute for the seeker… I think that is running dangerously close to the diabolical explanation Luther attributes to Satan. I’m also more than a bit concerned that it opens the door to spiritual abuse and forms of passive aggressive behavior, neither of which have any place near the Gospel.

Millennials Don’t Find Jesus There?

I’ve read upwards of 1100 comments across the blogosphere on the Rachel Held Evan’s blog post on the Millennials. Within her post, she has the controversial statement, “we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.” Um, ok…

In reading all that commentary, certainly there were a number where it seemed that Jesus was the last thing on folks minds… some suggested that the we need more morality and OT stuff in church in Sunday school and if we have enough fire, brimstone, and condemnation folks will come back. Others thought way cool, we can have more liturgy, the old organ hymns, and all sorts of high church stuff and get out of our financial bind. Others seemingly blamed everything on LGBT folks, evolution, and critical thinking. A few were pretty blatant and told folks they were not wanted, and should go away. In some cases, the comments were so extreme, it makes one wonder where the fruits of the spirit are or if something else is there…

As such, it does seem pretty reasonable to come to the conclusion that Jesus isn’t there, or as some have said. “Jesus has left the building”

On the other hand, when you have that the 2 or 3 are gathered thing,  the word is being preached thing, to say nothing of the omnipresence thing, Jesus is there… Alas, just because He is there, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that folks are listening… much less acting on His words.

In part, it seems the seed scattering thing may apply. Seeds don’t always take root, some wither away, some seeds get eaten by birds… which then may get re-scattered with fertilizer in another location (Hat tip to Pastor Steve on that one!)…  but this is only a part. It explains much of the off the wall, non fruit of the spirit stuff in the blogosphere, but it would be an exceedingly rare church where no seeds took root at all.

More so, I wonder if Jesus not being there thing is a framing issue on the part of the congregation and projection issue on the part of the millennials.

Many evangelical churches focus on the individual more so than the communal, but do so in a tribal like manner. Things like personal piety, holiness, purity etc end up as as huge deals, in some cases, perhaps swinging into Ecc 7:16 territory as to over-righteousness when they become idols… Rachel Held Evans had some good depth on this with Sex and the Path of Holiness a while back.

A few of the vibes I picked up from social media seem to lead some credence to a more Sermon on the Mount / Matthew 25 focus among the millennials than individual piety. Homelessness, food shelters, poverty mitigation, and wealth disparities seem to rank pretty high on the hypocrisy detection meter of millennials… Ie, if you preach on sexual abstinence, Dave Ramsey, and patriotism but not on poverty, global hunger, or the least of these, its reasonable for the projection and framing not to align, with the result that Jesus appears absent.

Another aspect of framing, is the lack of intellectual rigor, sort of the reverse of Ecc 7:16. More than a few millennials came to the conclusion that Jesus is not there as he doesn’t exist. While one can debate whether Christianity is intellectually viable, it seems far too many churches take the stance that it isn’t, more so by actions than by words. Canned and know it all answers, bad apologetics, and in general philosophical ineptness set the stage for this. Its not evolution, science or critical thinking that’s the problem, its a problem of our own making.

Lastly, I think a timing issue is involved. Jesus did a ton of ministry in a lot of places over a very short time frame. Millennials having recently come out of university experiences where you go from knowing no one, to hard core discussions of theodicy in a month are not conditioned to wait… This shows up in a soc media where folks are making yea or nay judgment calls on communities with only a one or two visits.

Bottom line, Jesus is there… but there is a sort of hiding of Him going on.

 

 

 

Half Dead Guy + Zero Tolerance

I took a brief look at the text of the Good Samaritan a couple weeks ago and how he dealt with the half dead guy. He left 2 Denarii (20 or 32Asses depending upon conversion factor) with the innkeeper to take care of him. Initially I was going whoa, a fleet of donkeys, but no, it was the coinage of the era. A Denaris was equal to about a days wages, a barber visit, or a couple lbs of grapes (conversions are iffy, its not like they had a consumer price index calculator back then).

It would seem that the innkeeper guy showed significant mercy to the half dead guy, and also put a ton of trust in the Samaritan… If you were running a inn, would you trust some foreign dude from a country you don’t like to make good on the account of a guy that might end up dieing in your place?

Perhaps even more so, if your cultures religious practice held to dead guys being unclean, its likely you probably ascribed to a zero tolerance policy. Ie, if you touched a dead guy, you’d have to hoop jump due to the purity laws. We don’t know diddly about the innkeeper… but it seems there is a lesson there as well. He sure exhibited a lot of trust and of mercy, and if he was religious, he apparently didn’t buy off on the zero tolerance thing.

Some suggest that zero tolerance is why both the priest and Levite guy passed on the other side… Its not that they were self absorbed jerks, they just didn’t want to risk becoming un-pure. Sadly, I’d guess a lot of half dead guys often become fully dead due to those folks idolization of purity.

Its also interesting to note that the start of the parable was based upon questions from a lawyer dude… and good lawyers never ask a question they don’t know the answer to. I imagine he was not expecting a double shock with the Samaritan guy being the neighbor and the purity stuff being rolled… and then on top of that being told to do likewise.

It seems Jesus upended a lot of “zero tolerance” things. People want the easy way out, they don’t want to struggle with grey, and they want to be on the safe side. Alas, just like we see today with the zero tolerance blowups in the news media, the unintended side effects can be pretty brutal… and in reality, zero tolerance is a lot less safe than its sold to be. Jesus presented a better way, will we go and do likewise?

 

 

Luther and the Flux Capacitor, Blooms Taxonomy

Luther was knocked down by lightning… perhaps to the tune of 1.21 Gigawatts on July 2, 1505. There is no record of him achieving 88mph, but somehow or another he appears to have made it to 1955 and then returned to his own time period.

The thinking behind this, is Luther presents Bloom’s taxonomy in 1529… roughly 427 years before Bloom published it.

Image from University of British Columbia Wiki
Blooms Taxonomy

Luther was upset with the then current problems with Christian edu as evidenced by the following from the preface to the small Catechism.

The deplorable, miserable conditions which I recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me to put this catechism of Christian doctrine into this brief, plain, and simple form. How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw: the common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach. Yet all the people are supposed to be Christians, have been baptized, and receive the Holy Sacrament even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments and live like poor animals of the barnyard and pigpen. What these people have mastered, however, is the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.

Luther goes on to present a solution… which mirrors much of Bloom’s taxonomy with a bit of Thorndike and Skinner thrown into the mix. Granted, he also goes go into salty sailor mode and into some off the wall stuff too.

So…. major edu problems were addressed ~500 years ago, and yet we find Biblical literacy is still not good, being often more culture driven than church driven. I wrote a bit on this before with God Helps Those Who Help Themselves Not!.

Doctrinal literacy is likewise pretty bad… as is the shredding of Christian liberty. Just ask most young folks about Christianity and more likely than not, you some form of moralistic law thing rather than grace.

I think there are 3 factors at play as to why this is the case.

1. Behavioralistic learning (Thorndike, Skinner) plateaus pretty easily except for the most driven students… often times folks reach the first or second step on Blooms taxonomy and that is where it ends. Consider that many pretty much end their formal Christian edu when they get confirmed… some of that is cultural, some of it is plateau driven.

2. Christian edu has a puritanical cultural component almost ascetic in nature… In some cases it seems as if it was intentionally designed to make the scriptures and Christian life as boring as a board and then some. Consider devotional reading… it puts me to sleep in a flash, on the other hand, give me something to chew through and I may be up until 6AM. Zukey Jones presents his views on this as a pastor.

3. Culture drives Christian edu more than the church does. We see this in the news media, in the movies, and in the Christian Industrial complex… Such makes a boat load of money for a few, but it often takes great liberty or even goes against the scriptures in the pursuit of mammon.

As far as whats the answer… that’s a tough one as there are additional compounding factors that change the landscape. The ever declining size of Sunday School makes critical mass difficult. Likewise, the loss of Christian privilege equates to more and more sports and academic schedule conflicts as far as Sunday goes. Its too bad Luther didn’t make it to 2035 prior to writing the small Catechism.

On the other hand, we’ve identified where the problems are. We have tools that Luther only could dream of, or even the folks back in the 50’s and 60’s when Sunday schools were full. Consider that an individual Sunday school teacher could flip their class, provide midweek encouragement and review for almost zero incremental costs with only a modest additional time investment. The doors are open for some amazing things to happen.

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!

 

Proof Preaching to the Choir and the World

A recurrent theme of some sectors of Christianity is a need to reinforce their beliefs, perhaps even more so in light of the world having significantly different ones. The most obvious of this is the whole creationism/evolution debate, but there are many others, existence of God, historical existence of Jesus… the whole Evidence that Demands a Verdict type books etc. Some folks tend to think that just as they believe, so should everyone else and see said proof preaching (more commonly known in Christian circles as apologetics) as a means of evangelism.

A big problem with this, is that often times the proofs aren’t anywhere near as solid as the folks who advocate them think. A given proof may be good enough for them, but to the world, its either so filled with inaccuracies, and/or bad philosophy, that rather than proving Christianity, it makes folks suspicious at best or disproves it at worst.

I tend to think there are 3 issues at hand with this.

First, is the level of evidence required. Some believers in Christ are likely not to need any evidence for said beliefs. Others might have come to Christ through something like Evidence that Demands a Verdict books and feel they need reinforcement. A few build doctrinal concepts (literal 7 day creation->100% textual accuracy of the KJV->Jesus is real)… If you push the creation idol a little bit, the whole faith structure shakes. Part of the error in this, (beside the Pelagian bit that we can come to faith on our own) is the assumption that all folks have the same need/same standards for evidence.

Second, many Christians are generally not skilled in the domain of philosophy and/or what they are arguing against, so they don’t necessarily know when they are going off into lala land. Philosophy is not the sort of thing one picks up with 1 semester of a university level course, much less a few Sundays worth of apologetics training. There’s also a tendency for closed ears, all the while a fervent belief that something is wrong and they can convince the world otherwise… often with arguments that fall flat to those skilled in a given field.

Luther is a prime example: Consider the following:

People gave ear to an upstart astrologer [Copernicus] who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. Whoever wishes to appear clever must devise some new system, which of all systems is of course the very best. This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred scripture tells us [Joshua 10:13] that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.

He should have known better, after all he also said… “All our experience with history should teach us, when we look back, how badly human wisdom is betrayed when it relies on itself.”

Thirdly, is the issue of do a little evil so good may come… Paul comes down on this pretty clearly in Romans 3, but the ends justifying the means is all too common. The mis-use of archutectural / historical / scientific evidence either by selective omission or bending words/sentences does a huge dis-service, especially when the full context can often be found via a bit of time with google.

While I understand the need to reinforce ones own belief system, there are some significant dangers in doing so via proof preaching.

The aspect of negative evangelism is a big deal… it sort of the reverse of “see your good works and glorify your father in heaven” especially as it takes so little light for the world to see a “do a little evil” type of thing.

In a similar vein, consider folks who put their faith in a geocentric universe as Luther did. The whole “God said it, I believe it thinking: doesn’t work out too well when we see scriptures dimly against a world with keener observation skills than those arguing against them.

A final aspect of proof preaching is that it can turn inward on itself and the rather than reinforcing ones beliefs, does the reverse. If one reads the following deconversion story of Rachel Slick, the daughter of a prominent apologist, the stage for deconversion was set early on. She put her views on Truth on a higher plane than the self authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit…. Dimly seen scriptures and doctrines of men often fail, either by experience or logic, and its a dangerous thing to elevate them over faith no matter how reasonable such a stance may appear.

My view parallels the late Rich Mullins.

If you want a religion that makes sense, I suggest something other than Christianity.  However, if you want a religion that makes life….than I think this is the one.” ~Rich Mullins

 

 

 

 

On The Community and Identity Thing Part 2

Community, identity, and spiritual experience are not found exclusively in the Christian domain. Jill describes religion in the following way.

It’s a way to make sense of a hectic and confusing world, and to find people who are making sense of the world in the same way. It’s a gathering of your own people. It offers absolution. It gives us rules to live by and helps to create a set of the shared values and beliefs that keep a society functional. It can encourage academic and spiritual exploration. It offers hope and light when we feel alone and lost. It promises to answer “why,” to give us a reason for our existence and a justification for the hardships we face. It maintains traditions, sometimes thousands of years old, through which we can understand who and where we are, connect to a past and situate ourselves in the long trajectory of human existence.

This is bare bones human need… It doesn’t need a terrified conscience, manufactured or otherwise to shame people to Jesus. It doesn’t need a third use of the law to keep people in an assembly no matter how much a community fails them. Its a much much bigger deal than just deriving ones identity through community.

It also can be fulfilled quite well by any number of religions or even non-religious entities.

Even in relative isolation, spirituality can be experienced. Consider the following from Libby Anne in what is a church.

My husband Sean was raised in a religious family, but he has never had what he would call a “spiritual experience.” I tried to explain to him what it felt like to be so lost in prayer as to feel at one with God and through him the universe, or to be enraptured during a particularly moving hymn in church. Because he had never had them, he couldn’t understand what I meant by a “spiritual experience.” Then he and I went to a concert together and I watched as the music transformed him. We took a walk in the woods and I watched as nature thrilled his soul. I explained to him that the feelings people have when they have “spiritual experiences” are the same feelings he gets at a good concert or during a walk through a patch of wilderness, or while looking at the stars or studying physics. And then he understood.

Where the rubber hits the road and sets Christianity apart from religion is the incarnation, Jesus, the son of God in the flesh… but if we put so many barriers in place, how will people get there? How does edification of the fellow believers take place? How does discipleship happen?

I think part of the problem is that much of contemporary Christianity has a low anthropology quotient. We far too often gloss over the basic human need for religion, we lean towards a moralistic pietism, or swing towards gnosticism in the pew, and then wonder why folks end up leaving the community of faith.

I tend to think a fair number of folks are checked out, but may still be present. Ie, they compartmentalize and are present for an hour or two every Sunday for worship and in some cases Sunday school, but they walk separately for the other 166 hours in a week. I know this all too well, as I’ve done it myself sometimes by circumstance, sometimes intentionally. Some are likely to argue “the Gospel is enough and scriptures tell us not to forsake corporate worship, that’s all we need…” I think they are missing the point, but such is for a different blog post.

In years past, there was a reliance on communal identity as a means of retention, but it was a masking thing. It sort of parallels the reliance on birthrate evangelism rather than the making of disciples and the spreading of the Gospel. Taken to an extreme, it leaves the door open to abusive and other practices counter to the Gospel.

Such is why I see opportunities abounding as identity through community becomes less and less a factor within Christian assembly.

Engineers, MBAs, Managers, and the Church

In the engineering profession, its not uncommon for engineers to have an intense technical focus… often times to the exclusion of nearly everything else. A coder friend of mine once said the length of his lawn was proportional to the technical challenge of the problem at hand. In addition, career progression, and for some, financial rewards are seen as afterthoughts, even if personally detrimental.

Some coders have poured thousands of unpaid late night hours into an open source project with few, if any hopes of financial return, all the while holding down a day job just to keep the lights on. They had a fire in the gut for what they were doing… to me, such sort of parallels Paul his tentmaking, and his zeal for the Gospel.

To an engineer, marketing MBA’s who are juggling to “get ahead promotion wise” or managers singularly focused on quarterly financial bonuses are often looked at like they are on another planet.

Within church/ministry organizations… there are many parallels to the business sector of marketing MBAs and managers… even volunteers want to “get ahead”. Jockeying for this or that, whether it be position or finances is common. Paul made a comment on Faith in Communities blog that I thought nailed it.

I have seen adjuticatories that reek of the worst of corporate culture (yes, the hint of sulphur), where “managing up” (sucking up to and manipulating bosses) supersedes “managing down” (taking care of the areas and people you are supposed to be taking care of), where image and politics are everything. In the business world serving one’s own career advancement takes priority over the servanthood of Christ

It seems a misplaced fire in the gut type deal… No doubt, human nature plays a role in this, ie pride, self preservation, greed, etc, but I think environment also plays a role. How many youngsters with fire in the gut for Christ, end up being hit with a firehose? How many pastors get so swamped with distractions and pulling here and there they nearly lose sight of the goal? How many coders and engineers are so focused technically, that Christian servanthood becomes nearly a lost cause? When was the last time, there was a real danger of a Eutychus type fellow taking a header out the window?