Thursday, May 21, 2015

Is Church Extraneous?

I just got back from a scientific research meeting in Spain. While in Spain, I had the opportunity to take the train from Valencia (where I was staying) up to Madrid to spend a day with an old friend. Antonio is a Spaniard and was my roommate and best man in my wedding.  I’ve visited him three times in Spain, each time about a decade apart.  He was a missionary (although natural born Spaniard) to Spain for many years, just stepping down five years ago.

I listened carefully to some of the ideas that he brings to the table as a non-American.  He was Americanized during his 15 years of living in the states.  I think his wife, Helena, who has never lived outside of Spain, has had a great influence on him.  She is the typical Spaniard, classified as Catholic, but never darkening the doors of a cathedral except for very special occasions.  She because a Christians in her twenties, but never plugged into an American-type Protestant church.

Antonio, even though he was a missionary, never goes to church and has not been involved with a church since leaving the states in 1985.  He considered it when he got back to Spain, after all he was involved with protestant churches in the U.S. and was being sent by churches as a missionary.

Helena was the first to question him.  She thought it was very strange that anyone, especially Christians, would want to get involved with the organized church. She, like most Spaniards, considers it as a black hole of sucking in your time and energy with no clear purpose.

Of course, over the ages it has been argued that a good Christians is very involved with the church.  But we must divide Church (the body of Christ) from the human organization we know as “church.”  When you think about it, Jesus was unchurched.

Antonio asked me why I go.  I am a very honest person, which always gets me into trouble and keeps me on the low end of the popularity list, especially among Christians.  I go for two reasons. First of all, I do want at least some Christian friends and in the American society, to have Christian friends you must be involved with a church. Secondly, my wife expects it from me.  If I were to stop going it would be a scandal within her entire family and it would create a lot of friction in our marriage. It was the same when I stopped going to her church.  Lastly, I go because I do still retain some enjoyment of the Sunday morning service, but not much. I mean if the talk (sermon) is decent and they have some good music, I’m fine with that.

True church, in my opinion, is what I’m about to do in ten minutes . . . go to a small group of Christian friends and do some honest sharing and praying for each other.

But I do think I’m drawing close to point that my next choice, if I don’t stay in my present church, is to become unchurched.  I would have to out-live my wife to reach that point, and I hope that never happens.


I may come back to this topic as I do think it is important.  I do think the present generation needs “permission” to leave the organized church and still be a Christian. Right now it is swallow the whole thing or leave the faith entirely.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Real Applogetic

I just have to make a comment about this, even if time doesn't permit.  There is a cycle for honest searchers. They start out from within Evangelicalism asking questions. They are pointed to . . . what I will call cheap apologetics.  These are tracts and books put out by evangelicals to suggest that any reasonable person would have to come to the conclusion that Christianity is the only possible answer. They assumed that all non-Christian thinkers are either stupid or immoral, but most likely both.

Then, if you are a real thinker, one day you realize that is not a true apologetic, but propaganda. The arguments are the same you could make for Mormonism, Islam or atheism for that matter.  That’s when many give up and depart the faith.

I probably would not put C.S. Lewis in that category, but somewhere between the cheap apologetics and the real.  The real is where in the deepest places of honestly, you are confronted with a problem that cannot be easily answered without God.  This is far removed from the cheapest apologetic (which I hear most common within Evangelism) that I know God is there, and Christianity is true because I can “feel it in my heart,” or “because the Holy Spirit spoke to me,” or “there is a God-shaped void in my heart.”

I came across a real apologetic this week.  No, Christianity is not mentioned by name and I don’t even think that God is mentioned. But an honest thinker cannot come away from this (it is a Nova episode) presentation without being closer to the position that God is there. It is the same apologetic that comes for a wonderful piece of classical music (complex) being played by a highly skilled orchestra.

If you are in need of a mature apologetic, as I am often in need of, find this episode on TV or buy this Nova episode on DVD: ( http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/great-math-mystery.html )  If you watch it and don’t see the connection, then maybe the cheaper versions are suffice for you.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I'm Here

It was thoughtful of you, Nestus, to ask if I was alright and for you Dana to give me Easter greeting.  Yes, I'm fine.  

I think that I've taken a reprieve from writing here for several reasons.  For one, my life is so busy that every time I write here, it is usually a quick typing while in line for coffee or between patients. I never have time to proof-read and sometimes the quality is not very good. I wish I had the luxury to sit at a desk with a cup of coffee and focus on writing a quality piece over 1-2 hours but it just can’t happen.

Also, it seems like everyone has a blog out there and most of them do have the time to do quality work and I wasn’t sure I had a voice that was unique. I am in the middle of a total rewriting of my manuscript after an editor that works with Penguin Books helped me a great deal.  So when I do have a minute to write, I’m working on that (and am quite behind).


I am thinking of coming back.  There must be another voice for out there to let people know, those who are disillusioned with the way evangelicalism is run today, there is a place for honest, thinking Christians.  Time will tell if I’m coming back.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Question of Epistemology Part II

To conclude my argument about the Grand Canyon, before moving on to the bigger question, I must mention a couple of  convincing arguments about the complexity and age.

Stromatolites (see the photo on the right of the few living colonies left on earth)  are a type of limestone/shale formation that comes from a thick layer of columnar bacteria colonies that grow in shallow warm seas. It can take hundreds of  years to form a layer, not to mention the very thick layer that is found about a 1/4 way up in the Grand Canyon (see photo below).  I touched these just a few days ago.

I will add one more photo  below of a drawing of the rock formations in the canyon just as a glimpse into this complex story.

But I have only scraped the surface, no pun intended. My point is, the evidence of a very complex and very old Grand Canyon is overwhelming to any one who will take the time to look with their own eyes and listen.

So here is on to my real question.  How can men (I don't know of any women who are part of ICR), who have PhDs, who are very bright, come up with a explanation that rational child would reject? Look at the canyon with your own eyes. It is not anything like the ash "canyons" at Mount Saint Helens (I've climbed that mountain and have had my share of that slippery fine stuff).  If the Grand Canyon was made up of layers of similar shale (mud turn to stone) then you might make the crazy argument that it was formed in a matter of weeks under a catastrophic flood. But it is not.

I'm about to digress into one more argument about the particulars (in this case the age of the Grand Canyon) before I get back on track with the philosophical issue of epistemology. Sorry, but I can't help myself.

The other explanation that ICR made bout the fossil record (life forms) was that different creatures swam upward during the flood and died at different levels of mud.  Are you kidding me?  So, if the world was covered by water, who would drown first and sink, a trilobite (a very early marine anthropoid, who could swim very well thank you, as well as "breath" under water) or lizards? Why would a fern fossil be found near the top of the "mud layers" and the good swimmers at the bottom?  If the earth was flooded then covered with mud before eroding away, the ferns should be at the bottom and the trilobites at the top.

Now, finally to my main argument and concern.  God speaks truth to us through his inspired word that was written by real people living in history in this real material world. Since God is the creator of this material world and deemed it spectacular, we can also learn truth through His creation. 

There is a third "truth" that I find dubious and that is the gnostic truth that many modern evangelicals teach. This is a truth that just comes "into your heart" directly from the Holy Spirit.  While that sounds neat, it is a gross neglect of the fallen nature of our emotions. 

The emotional self is what most evangelicals re-label (under the Platonic rather than Biblical view of the psyche or soul) as our spiritual self, unfallen and pure (in their belief system).  However, I know people who are 100% certain, based on this gnostic type of truth, that the CIA has implanted probes into their brains. I have known people and known of people (per historical accounts) that were 100% sure that God had spoken to their spiritual places to convince them that he wanted them to have sex with 14 year old girls, or to blow themselves up and kill everyone in a nursery school, or ask for money on TV to buy yourself a Lear jet with leather seats and the list goes on and on.  Now, I don't mean to totally disregard human intuition. There is value there but my point is that it cannot be totally trusted.

But this gnostic approach to truth is made more palatable  in Billy Graham movies or in church testimonials when we say that "God spoke to my heart."  This is where, in the small group I attend, I got the weebie jeebies when one of the elders said that one day the  Holy Spirit might speak to him from a verse that has nothing to do with the original intentions of the verse, and later the Holy Spirit might tell him to do the opposite form the same verse.  This is when the Bible stops being the Bible of Church history and becomes an evangelical book of charms and magic.

So when we go back to the original forms of revealed truth, the scriptures and creation, there should be agreement.  I don't believe that true Christians can accept the post-modern notion of the synthesis of truth, where opposites can both be true. In traditional logic . . . they can not. So when these two forms of truth are in conflict, as in the Grand Canyon view of ICR, then the problem has to be with interpretation by the fallen person making the assumption.

In this one case, there is overwhelming support that the Grand Canyon reveals an earth that is very old and complex as observed in the material world. I see much more freedom in the creation story of scripture in how that came about. As I've asked again, please show the passage in scripture where God is emphatic that he created the universe six thousand years ago?

I know that this is getting long and I'm about to conclude this thought, but hang in there.

So why do the smart ICR scientists look at the obvious material world and come up with conclusions that a third grader would reject? It is because of the "branding" of truth.  This is a sociological and psychological phenomenon that is portrayed as an epistemological one. Just study the history of the modern evangelical movement and you will see when this sociological event takes place. As the liberal (meaning real, philosophical "liberal" not the liberal in the current use to describe a democrat) theologians in Europe during the late 1800s began to question the authenticity of the Bible, the "fundamentalist" created a fundamental set of beliefs that they would not yield on and unfortunately many of them pick a six thousand year old earth as one of those.

I saw an interview with John Stewart recently (can't remember where) and they played a clip where he was interviewing a cabinet member of the Obama administration. He chuckled and said that he hated to interview politicians because it was like talking to a robot. You can not ask them any question that doesn't come back with the branded answer that we all know. Because, if they were to step into their own human-ness and give a candid answer, they would be fired the next morning. At least, he said, when he talks to a salesman he knows what they are going to say to promote their brand, but sometimes they will become human, at least off camera, and wink and say, "yeah, actually our competitors are making a better product than us right now."  But the politician is rigid and "stays in character" 24/7 . . . to the point they start to believe their own lies. 

So in search of a true epistemology, we need to be humble, call the branding of truth for what it is, and understand the weakness of our own psychological self, without projecting that as a weakness of God or the Christian essentials.

My brief vacation is ending and I may be back in the grind of an intense work schedule and disappear again, but I hope not. Sorry again for any typos but I'm being summoned again and I don't have time to proof-read.




 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An Atheist and an Evangelical Walk into a Grand Canyon --An Exercise in Epistemology Part I

I've spent the past three days here on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. This is my third trip here and the first for my wife. While she branched off today to do some hiking, I wanted to focus an entire day on the geological history of this area.  I'm extremely inquisitive and I love to learn things I don't know, and there is a lot of those things.  While I've heard the entire story of the Grand Canyon before, I wanted to hear it again and in detail. 

Jumping ahead, I've always said that there is a serious (intellectual) problem that we all share in and that is one of existence. There are no easy answers. The Atheists-evolutionists have huge problems . . . but the Christians do too. When they say, I know the answer because the Holy Spirit has revealed truth directly to my heart, then, in my humble opinion, that is a lazy cop-out.

So imagine that two cars enter this fine national park and drive up to the south rim and stop at the Mather overlook. While they both are standing side by side, here are some problems that they must face.

I will only quickly address the problem with the Atheist. He (or she) will look out over the incredible scene and feel something overwhelming, which is almost a universal human feeling. I only say "almost" because some of the early white explorers saw the canyon in a frame of disgust (for interfering with their travel plans and having no value to feed cattle or raise crops). But the atheist has to suddenly do some form of mental calisthenics to soak in that moment. They may think of these feelings as an evolutionary development that causes us to feel pleasure in such sights . . . for no clear reason. Some of the more dishonest ones will come up with terms like "feeling energy" at the sight of amazing things.  They hint at spirituality like Sagan habitually did.

The honest atheist (which are very difficult to find) must reduce the experience to a clump of material (him or herself) standing in close proximity to another clump of material . . . or in the case of the Grand Canyon . . . the absence of material. That is all. It is final. You can add no other meaning to the experience if you are a faithful atheist.

Now to the Evangelical. But I will define them as the typical young-earth creationist to be clear.  They will have even greater problems, which they would rarely admit.

I realize that not everyone cares for science like some of us do. For some don't care about how geological features are formed. But this issue goes beyond geology to one of epistemology, or the whole process of finding truth.

In my early days, soon after I suffered a great disillusionment with Christianity, I was trying to answer my questions about creation and discovered The Institute of Creation Research (ICR). I got quite involved with them. I attended a week-end seminar. Then I gave them money and a year later volunteered to help them put on another seminar. It was while I was in the middle of the second seminar, that I had an eureka moment and realized all the things they were saying was . . . well crap.  Here were smart scientists (not in earth sciences) who had a specific belief (the earth was six thousand years old) and therefore were forcing their interpretation of science to conform to that model. It was a broken epistemology.

Back to the Grand Canyon.

ICR uses the Grand Canyon to prove that the earth is very young.  They chose this incredible geological feature because the old-earth geologists (or I could just say geologists) use this place as a well-written history book of a very old earth.

When Mount Saint Helens exploded in 1980, many feet of light ash fell around its base and inches fell for hundreds of miles to the east. The ash also damned up natural streams (and new water form rapidly melted glaciers) high on the mountain into makeshift lakes.  When the dams broke, then water plummeted down the mountain side and created small canyons of layered ash. Because the ash was laid down in layers, with a slightly different composition over hours and days, the appearance resembled a Grand Canyon in a microcosm.

ICR used the rapid (weeks) formation of ash "canyons" to prove their interpretation of the Grand Canyon, as a geological feature formed in weeks by Noah's world wide flood. In their view, the world wide flood laid down huge layers of mud (looking out my window right now, I estimate that mud would have to have been 6,000 feet  thick) then the sudden retreat of the flood waters washed out this magnificent canyon in a matter of days or weeks.

To the Christian who has no training in the physical sciences, especially the earth sciences, they could accept this theory comfortable as the true Christion view.  I'm not here to criticize people for not knowing or caring about science. However, part of me wonders how can you say you love God but not have a passion for knowing as much about his creation as possible. But I know that people have different reasons for not caring about science. I don't know much about being a collector, you know, those people who have 100,000 different thimbles and could tell you everything you could possibly know about them.

The problem is, and I will try to quickly summarize here, the real Grand Canyon formation is very complex. It is made up of layers upon layers of complex rock formations, not layers and layers of simple shales (mud that has turned to rock).  Some of the rocks are formed from a type of limestone that is made by bacteria in shallow, warm seas. Some of the rocks are formed from desert sands, which have been compressed. Some are from lava flows. I'm here to say that the relationship between the real Grand Canyon and layers of light weight volcanic ash is nil.

I'm not being brainwashed by the liberal-evolutionists, as a friend at my old church use to tell me. He would always start to tell me how those liberal god-haters had intentionally used a mixture of monkey and human bones to create "missing links."  I would smile and walk away.

But there is a more serious point I want to make about epistemology and I will try to do that in part II. This goes far beyond the young earth vs old earth controversy to how we know truth. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity - A New Book Worth Your Time

Once again I've found myself overwhelmed with work. I have a brief, two-day respite, here on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, before attending a meeting in Phoenix. I wanted to take a minute to mention a book that twenty of us collaborated on this year. I think it will be an important discussion point for many who have been discouraged by the complexities, may I add extraneous complexities in my opinion, and want a simpler way to express the Christian community. I had the opportunity to write the chapter on justice, a favorite topic of mine.


You can pre-order the book at Amazon at this time, prior to its official release.

I hope to be back on my feet in a week or so and out from under this overwhelming demand on my schedule.

 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Christianistan Part II--Why a Christian Society/Country is Usually not a Good Idea


I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about this concept. The contemplation wasn’t whether or not a Christian country would be a good thing or not. I already know it would be a horrible idea. But, my scrutiny was about the why of this.

When I was a young Christian, I lived and studied within a Christian subculture (a small parachurch organization that was almost a commune) and it was our aspirations to create an even more defined society.  One of our members, Art, did leave for such well-defined commune, one outside of normal society.  We, on the other hand, lived together, and spent every day together, had a very clear hierarchy of authority, but we still functioned within the broader American society. We went to a state college and worked regular secular jobs.

I did spend four days living in Art’s real commune, with a serious consideration about joining one like that once I had finished college. For Art’s commune, it was different than our parachurch group for several reasons. They all worked at the commune business (a chain of restaurants). The individuals weren’t paid, but all the income went into the commune pot and was shared according to need (so a commune in the official definition of the term).  In that commune, the leaders made all decisions. If you wanted to take a bus to go home and see your family, they would have to approve that trip and provide the funds for the ticket.

In our group, we also had to get permission to go home (which was usually denied) but we didn’t have to ask for money from the communal pot.  However, all of us had an idealism that a mircro or macro Christianistan would be a utopia.

So Art’s commune collapsed a few years later, as they all do, due to the leadership’s abuse of the members, misuse of money, teaching authoritarian doctrines.  I down know how the “elders” ended up abusing the members but it typically involves psychological and sexual abuse.

After we got back from the mission field, my wife and I had a great desire to return to live overseas.  We actually loved living abroad.  I looked for several opportunities and couldn’t find one, except for the military. I did join the Air Force.

Evangelical friends used to ask me, “If you love living overseas, why not go back as a missionary?”  I would tell them, (before even I understood what I was saying), I would never serve with a Christian organization again because they could tell you to do terrible things and then stake the claim that it was “God’s will” for your life.  A secular company couldn’t do that. Even the military, as much as an authoritarian hierarchy that they practice, couldn’t do that.

I do see the ideal society, being the Christian society built around true Christian ideals.  Don’t steal. Put the needs of others first. Be good, responsible parents. Don’t hate. Don’t murder. Love your neighbor. These are all great Christian ideals that would lead to a certain utopian society.  If a real theocracy could exist, and in the new heaven and new earth it will, it will be beautiful.

The problem with how things are, rather than how we could only dream then to be, I think has to do with our misunderstanding of sanctification.

In our old evangelical way of thinking, we saw a world where we came into the Christian fold as blank slates.  Our moral selves were written in the thin air of the spiritual world, so it was very fluid and subject to immediate changes. It was all moral. No matter what had happened prior to moment of conversion, the only thing that mattered was following a set of principles which would cause us to grow into mature Christians. Once you were mature, it was assumed that you only had God’s will at the center of your being and everything you said and done could be trusted as from God. If you were a leader, others could trust you with their lives.

But in reality, our character is written deeply in the sulci of our brains, in the material.  If we were abused as children and had baggage from that, or if we were born with the genetics of a personality disorder, those things are not changing very easily.  So, the myth becomes an illusion. We start to pretend that we are better than we really are because our erroneous theology says that we should be maturing quickly (or we are slackers).  Those who migrate into leadership roles, often do so because they are manipulators, not because of their selfless wisdom.

So this sets up a dystopian world. Humility is lost. There are only a few Christian leaders of large mega ministries who caution people to be careful of them. These few know that they stand on grace alone. There are only a wise few that insist on checks and balances to watch them because they know that the only thing that separates them now, from the awful person they were before they became a Christian, is wet tissue paper.

I didn’t understand that thirty years ago.  I was totally shocked when a good friend of mine, who had been the drug culture of high school and early college, after one bad day . . . returned to that culture. This was after she had spent five years in a hard-core Christian discipleship group.  She had been one of the few chosen to go on staff because she was so godly. Then she had one horribly bad day and the tissue barrier broke.