Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I'm Back!

I've been out of town for a week . . . then returned to an incredible schedule. I hope to do some meaningful postings soon.

Part of my trip was to attend the Midwest LAbri conference in Rochester, Mn. It is always such a breath of fresh air. An interesting lecture by Dick Keyes . . . which was exactly along the lines of my own personal observations. It has to do with what I consider as the number one challenge facing the Church in America . . . the influence of Platonic Dualism.

More later.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Theology of Twisters--The Lunacy of God

The news in the last couple of days has been about a deadly tornado that hit parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky. This story was very poignant as I am from Tennessee. I don’t have the latest death count, but it is at least fifty plus hundreds injured, some of them seriously.

The thing that caught my eye this morning, was listening to the Today Show as they interviewed survivors of the tornado on the campus of Union University, a Southern Baptist school

As I was trying to shave and dress while listening, I could not catch the faces of the students, but I could hear their words. They each talked about the “miracle” of their survival. One described how “God had wrapped her in a cocoon of protection.” Another guy was laughing how God had forced him down (with the walls pushing down on him) into a kneeling position and the message to him was that God wanted him to pray. Each of the students were praising God for protecting them and he was protecting them because they had prayed.

At this moment, allow your mind to wander to the hundreds of people, sitting in funeral homes, hospitals, in broken down houses or in the safe haven or shelters . . . each of who has lost, through a terrible death, a loved one in this storm. Others have suffered intense pain and dismemberment from the storms effects. How does this fit with the Union University interviews? I mean, does it make sense that all these people, who perished, were either not praying right, pissing God off for some reason? I bet many of those, God-fearing, Tennesseans (there in the Bible belt) were praying their hearts out . . . just before the tornado ripped them to pieces, killing them. We . . . I guess I must say “those” evangelicals, such as the UU students, often paint themselves into a theological corner with these types of statements.

One of the worst examples of this was when I was living in northern Michigan. I happened to be working in the Emergency Room during those days. I was not on duty when the dreadful event occurred, but came in right afterwards and heard about it from my colleagues.

A couple in our church had two young boys. I think the youngest was 4, and we will call him Bobby. His parents were going through some marital issues at the time, and had even been separated.

One day Bobby’s dad was in the back yard mowing the yard on his rider. Bobby pushed on the screen door, wanting to go and be with his dad. He pushed until the door came unlatched. Then Bobby ran across the yard. His dad threw the riding mower into reverse and backed over Bobby, slicing his little precious head up into about four pieces.

In the midst of his horror, his dad grabbed up the bloody little body and ran to our ER where he was pronounced dead.

The next Sunday, or church was in grief and horror over the loss of such an innocent life. One of our fellow elders, Robert, went before the church (as he usually did to share prayer requests). As he started to talk about Bobby and his family he paused. He looked out over the crowd of 500 and said loudly, “I don’t care what any one says . . . my God doesn’t make mistakes. He took Bobby home for a purpose and I’m sure it was to teach his parents to depend on Him.” Immediately there were amens and praises being shouted out in the Church.

So God sliced a four-year-old boy’s head up into pieces in order to “teach his parents to depend on Him?” Well, it didn’t work. His parents eventually divorced and left the church in the subsequent year. So if God knows the future, and He knew that they would eventually leave the Church and their marriage, yet God sliced up the little boy’s head anyway . . . then God is a lunatic!

Of course He isn’t, but that’s the crazy box that we put God in. So a plane crashes and 30 people die and two survive. The family of the two says it is because they prayed right???? Hey, something is messed up here.

There is much more I want to say here to solve this riddle. The riddle is that God is 1) sovereign, 2) loving yet . . . there is a place for cause and effect in this wonderful . . . but dangerous world in which He has created.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Ihave no theological agenda with this blog . . . not really. If there is a unifying theme, or purpose, and that is the attempt to venture deeper and deeper into an authentic (and certainly honest) understanding of Christianity.

I was thinking yesterday about how superstitious Evangelical Christianity tends to be. I think what prompted it was catching some type of pre-Super Bowl Christian program on TV. I was actually looking for the PBS channel and specifically NOVA. I happen to catch a glimpse of three hefty men (with virtually no necks) sitting around a coffee table. The coffee table was draped in football jerseys. I paused the remote and listened as one of the manly-men seemed to be crying.

In summary, this man was giving a testimony about how he got involved in full-time ministry. He had gone out to his “prayer shed” and was praying something along the line of “God do you want me to play football?” Then he added, in a very high-pitched, emotionally endowed voice, “Then it was a miracle . . . like a movie being played in the inside of the shed . . . it was a movie of my life and God showing me that he wanted me to go into full time youth ministry!” The two other football types were saying “Praise God!” or something like that.

As I watched this I thought that there is a 99.99999% chance that this man is seriously embellishing the story . . . if not out-right lying. How do I know? I’ve sat in on countless meetings like this over the past 35 years. I’ve told hundreds of stories of how God had done miracles, super-natural miracles in my life. But looking back, and even at the time, I knew it wasn’t true. Deep, deep in the inner-most parts of my heart, when I spoke of driving on no gas, or praying for a sign and then something amazing happening, that it really didn’t happen that way.

But why did I do it? I think I want to make that topic, something along the line of the psychology of lying for Jesus. But this posting is about Christian superstition.

First I must define what I mean by superstition. In my use here, it is simply the notion that events are controlled by unseen and supernatural means. When I state it that way, you may think, “okay, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that the Biblical ideal?”
To put flesh on this discussion, I’ll mention some real conversations that I’ve had with other Christians, or at least their statements.

“I was praying that I would see Eric’s mother. I went up to her house and she wasn’t there. They told me she was in town (a town of 500 people). I drove back down Main Street . . . and there was her car at the IGA. It was obviously a God thing. I went up and down each aisle over an over until I caught a glimpse of her going out the door. It was a miracle!”

“We were at the youth rally in the huge football stadium. We stood up to put our hands into the air and to sing praise songs with Casting Crowns at the microphone. With forty thousand people singing at once, it was surreal. But then I looked down and there was gum on my shoes. Obviously Satan had put it there to ruin everything. Those were my brand new Nikes. But I prayed, God help me. I felt my anger calming down and then started singing praises again. It was a miracle!”

“We were praying that God would bring Dan home safely the night he was killed in the car wreck. But a peace came over me when God opened my eyes. He had done exactly what I was asking, He answered my prayer perfectly and supernaturally because I didn’t realize, with my carnal eyes, that when I was asking God to bring Dan home safely . . . to God the word home is Heaven!”

I could go on and on with familiar conversations, the type that we hear every Sunday at church or anytime that we run into Evangelicals. But the issue that I want to raise again is honesty. Running into someone that we are looking for, in a small town . . . is that really outside the laws of probability? Is it really supernatural? If you get gum on your shoe is it really the direct work of Satan? I’m speaking supernatural work here . . . where the gum wasn’t there a second before you put your foot down, and Satan magically created it out of nothing . . . just to irritate you?

This is a game that we use to play all the time when I was deeply enthralled within Evangelicalism. Every event, good or bad, was tied with invisible puppeteer strings, to the hands of God or, in some cases, Satan.

There is tremendous social (peer) pressure for Christians, especially those Christians who want to appear spiritual, to speak in these terms . . . but why?

I really think that the root cause of this mis-perspective of reality, has to do with the influence of Gnostic Dualism within Christendom. I will mention this historical fact over and over in my posts because I think it is key in the things that ail our wonderful faith. This influence is not controversial because every historian, be they Christian or secular is very familiar with this influence. All of the Church’s early creeds were written to combat this cancer growing within the church . . . but in my opinion it was never eradicated.

Speaking more specifically and practically, Gnostic Dualism pollutes the way in which we look at the world . . . meta-physically. The Gnostic-Dualistic concept believes that the physical, including the body, the earth, science, laws of physics and chemistry, the brain etc. are all inferior to the “spiritual.” They define “spiritual” along the lines that Plato did (and Zoroaster). It is not a Biblical division, but one based on altitude . . . things up (in unseen Heaven) are good and things low (this world) are inferior . . . or perhaps evil. Therefore, you (the Evangelical Christian) can not define events, any event, by the laws of physics or probability (looking for someone in a small town and finding them) because that perspective is inferior or unspiritual when compared to the God the puppeteer perspective.

The Biblical view is that the dividing line rests at the point of something passing out of nothing. In other words, the inferior natural world . . . is really nothingness. It was the second before all that is was. Everything, this side of creation IS A MIRACLE and directly from the hand of God. Of course I’m not saying, like the pantheist, that both good and evil are from the hands of God. That’s a different discussion . . . the state of real evil in the world.

So when a big part of our Christian culture states that cause and effect, laws of physics etc. are "worldly" and the direct hand of God is spiritual. It is like we think that God is a stranger (or alienated) from the natural laws rather than the creator of them.

As I've said, the really root to all of our behavior is the drive for self-significance, that with in our Christians circles we also want significance. We want to be looked up on as good Christians, or being "spiritual." This is the great pressure to embellish stories, to make them look like "super-natural" events.

I have a neighbor who is really looked up to as a spiritual person. He speaks in these supernatural terms all he time. To the common Christian, he does look like a hero. I think he is a decent man, as decent as any of us are in this fallen flesh. But when I talk to him, I start feeling very tempted to embellish as well.

But the odd thing is, we Christians say that we believe in truth and honesty, yet we are some of the most, emotionally at least, dishonest people in our society.

So where does this leave the sovereignty of God? Of course I believe in God’s sovereignty . . . there is no place in the universe that is hidden from his power and knowledge. But does this leave only Christian fatalism? I mean, does God choose to control every event, even where each leaf lands when it falls from a tree? We Christians believe that it is disrespectful to say that an event happened because of cause and effect (following the laws of physics). But where in scripture does it say that God has direct control of every event?

Yes the hairs on our head are numbered. Yes, a sparrow does not fall without God knowing about it. Yes the heart of the king is in God’s hand and he can direct it like a river.

But God also created the laws of cause and effect. If I climb the mountain in front of my house and then jump off . . . I will die and I don’t think that God “planned and directed” the whole event. We Christians must have the theological position that gives us the freedom to be honest about the world in which we live.

Do miracles (outside the laws of physics) happen? Certainly scripture attest to them. I’ve heard of thousands of miracles . . . none of which could be proven not to be bogus. Yes, I do think miracles can happen, but if they are happening today, they must be rare.

I’ve heard of thousands of people babbling in tongues (including myself a long time ago), but I’ve never, ever seen someone spontaneously start speaking another, unlearned language. I’ve heard of many, many supernatural healings . . . but I really can’t say (as a medical professional) that anyone of those were outside the laws of human physiology.

Doesn’t this make me look very unspiritual? But, if we want to be people of the truth, we must embrace the truth for what it is.

There are several dangers when we look at the world through the Gnostic-Dualistic glasses. For one, we don’t achieve the potential that I think that God wants for a society. When we are superstitious Christians, we are always looking for a sign. When things (naturally . . . following the laws of physics and probability) go wrong we give up, thinking that road-block was the hand of God.

How many good Christian people have been thwarted from doing great things because they didn’t “have peace” about it? They assume that it is a “God things” speaking outside the role of human emotions. But another perspective is that God created us with a wonderful set of emotions . . . one of those being anxiety. Often anxiety is a healthy thing. Like this morning, a good taste of anxiety made me slow down on an icy road crossing a mountain pass. But, because we are fallen and not perfect, our anxiety can be irresponsible. It can show up when there is not a good reason. But the superstitious Christian assumes that it is the Holy Spirit, and backs down.

I had a dear Navigator Christian friend call off a marriage, because as the day got closer, he felt more anxiety. He loved the gal and she did him. But he interrupted the anxiety as a warning from the Holy Spirit.

I’ve seen it work the other way. I knew a group of Christian guys, who seeing a gorgeous gal enter the ministry . . . and feeling horney for her (it couldn’t have been love or any other attraction because these guys had only seen their bodies). But instead of realizing that it was normal warm-blooded male attractiveness (according to the way that God made our brains . . . and our goads) they spiritualized it. These guys told the girls that “God had spoken to them” and told them to marry them.

But, as Christians, we must dare to be honest. This does not disrespect God (making Him less powerful) but respects Him more, because it mean that we desire truth over deceit.