Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mike's "Perfect Church" Part VIII - Order

I have added more under community below if you haven't read it in the last few days.

The theological boundaries of the church will be the most difficult part. There is always a tension, in church forms, between order and freedom.

In the Evangelical world, especially among my personal friends, they tend to error on the order side. The best example of what I'm talking about is a good friend, Ken, who has a theological degree from a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) seminary. He is an elder in his church. He was telling me that his denomination recently excommunicated a neighboring PCA church because their pastor wrote an article that erred in an area that is too complicated for him to explain. It had to do with the way in which they look at the division between the soul and the spirit. Ken, said you would almost need to have a PhD in theology to even understand the concepts.

However, Ken believed that the excommunication was the right thing to do for the purity of theology. What the denomination meant by "excommunication" was to treat the people in the other church as pagans according to Matthew 18:17 ( (NIV) "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."

Another friend, Rob, with a seminary degree from a Lutheran school, attends a Missouri Synod church. He sent me an e-mail and was very concerned that I was attending a Christian Reformed Church. He found a Missouri Synod Church for us, which was 60 miles from our house. He recommended, "For the sake of your children" that we would take them to that church. He feels that only the Missouri Synod Church, is the true church because only they practice the sacraments correctly.

In those examples, I believe that they have gone way too far in the area of "order." The reason that I believe that people make this mistake is because of the influence of Scholasticism ( and thus Aristotle) on Luther and Calvin. The Scholastics believed that we can use logic to know virtually all truth. That is you seek God right, then the (deceitful) heart can have no influence.

Because of this erroneous presupposition, you really feel you can know the precise truth and if other people do not have the same precise truth, then they are in sin.

This error ( okay here I go again) is rooted in Christian Dualism, even though they have a higher regard for reason and logic than other Christian Dualist. It is Dualism because they see the mind, and especially the emotions (psychology) as part of the "flesh" and thus of limited influence over reason, which they have spiritualized as a godly trait and somewhat spared from the fall.

Okay, I will continue this in another posting. In that posting I will talk about the problems with "Freedom."

Monday, April 28, 2008


Sorry, but I'm traveling this week and without good Internet access. Be back by Wednesday.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mike's "Perfect Church" -- Part VII Community

If you think that Mike's Perfect church . . . not having a building, having a teacher, but then elders who are above the teacher in leadership . . . looks different, then you haven't seen anything yet.

The most defining difference is the community. The hallmark of the community is their complete feelings of emotional/intellectually safety which would result in a tremendous transparency. There is nothing to hide because we each would know that we are fallen and saved only by Christ. We would not hold to the inaccurate beliefs that once we became a Christian, we start with a clean-slate and all our problems go away.

So, if someone was having trouble with their children, being tempted to have an affair, wondering if they are gay, questioning specific doctrine . . . they would know that they are among loving friends and can share deeply and honestly without any fear of condemnation.

Of course the center part of God's gift of the church is "encouraging one another.” So, the community should reflect that.

If you go back, many posts ago, I talked about the essence of human (fallen human) behavior and it comes down to a desire for significance. This concept rules all human behaviors, hopefully Christian behavior a little less than others.

So, for the church to be an encouraging place, it must be a place in which the “righteousness of God” is so manifest, that people can start to suspend that subconscious drive to seek their own significance.

In many modern Christian circles, I really think, if you are very, very honest, this personal desire for significance taints the quest for true encouragement. I will give a practical example of the error that I am talking about.

Betty walks up to a group of women during a refreshment time between Sunday school and preaching. During the middle of trivial conversations Sandra looks at her and asks, “So what is Jason (her son) up to these days? I haven’t seen him around church.”

Betty answers with teary eyes, “Well, I don’t know. He’s going through hard times right now. Since turning 16, he has been loosing interest in church and youth group.”

Sandra, with a little rolling of her eyes in front of the other women drinking coffee: “Well, girl, like I told you a long time ago, if you put your kids in public school, then you are abrogating your responsibility to the school to raise them in God’s way.”

So what’s really going on here? I will analyze this and give an example how this would work in the perfect church.

Betty is hesitant to share the truth about Jason, because as a mother, she wants be seen as a good mother (desire for significance in the eyes of her Christian friends and God’s eyes). She does share, but not the whole truth and how seriously her son is struggling with depression, possibly smoking pot and many other problems. So she is only brave enough to scratch the surface . . . but after this interaction, she may never even bring it up again.

Sandra, also wants personal significance, takes this opportunity (the chink in Betty’s armor) to make a point of her own spiritual superiority.

In Mike’s perfect church, the people are so secure in God’s righteousness bestowed on them in Christ, they don’t have to worry about how they look to each other or even to the non-Christians. This is how the conversation could go.

First of all, people at church wouldn’t find out about Jason’s troubles months later. No, Betty would have been sharing things with them from the beginning. The fellow women would in response tell her of their troubles, because they have nothing to prove.

I’m using women as examples here, but it is usually men who are more defensive and insecure in these matters.

So, if the perfect church is to be encouraging, then people must be honest and others must be confirming, not confirming in their own successes but in God’s grace.

Mike's "Perfect Church" -- Part VI - Substance

Having established that The Church (as well as the local church) is God's gift to Christians, and the entire world . . . we start looking at the content or how that church would look.


A building is totally optional and should be only a tool for accomplishing the above purpose. In many places a building would be a hindrance. In some places, where the local church had a lot of people, and they wanted to meet at one time and other physical locations were not available, then a building would be okay. But the building is not part of the purpose itself nor should it interfere with that purpose (via the temple mentality). But, since this is "Mike's" concept of the perfect Church, then I would say no building. I've seen buildings get in the way of the goals.

One example of the hindrance is the expense. That money could be used better, in my opinion, to "bless the world" . . . for example feeding the hungry or combating HIV-AIDS.

NOTE: I don't have space here to give all my Biblical arguments for my statements below, but if you want to see where I'm coming from I suggest you read the old Howard Synder book The Problem of Wineskins.


My view is that scripture gives historical record of church leadership, but I see them as examples rather than mandates. As I read (Ante Pacem, The Church Before Constantine) I saw that the church had a wide variation in their leadership models during this early phase. But, as the historical account in scripture, a group of elders (even as small as two) is a good model. Most churches fail in this part, including some of the house churches I've visited, and the emerging churches I've read about. While claiming to have elders as the arch-type leader, in reality, it is the one person, the founder or pastor, who acts like a dictator in all practical terms. I've seen the same pratical model in my own church.

So my ideal church would have at least two people (notice I said "people") who were true elders and leaders, and actually had the responsible of leadership. These would not only be "token" leaders while the pastor or founder is in the background controlling everything. The founder, and the Teacher/Pastor may also serve as elder, especially if the group is small . . . but neither as dictator.


The Church is God's gift to us. One key purpose of this gift (the teacher), is to give us knowledge. Of course this should be knowledge about scripture, but also knowledge outside of scripture. This is where the monist may differ from the dualist. The dualist believes that God only speaks through scripture and everything else is trash. A monist believes that God has spoken in his word, but, also speaks through His wonderful creation. But lessons from his creation (and I use the word "creation" in a very broad sense here meaning not just nature but secular topics such as psychology, sociology and science). But, we have to use caution when we take information from creation, just like we do when we study scripture. This world is tainted by the fall. Some non-Christians (just like some Christians) speak truth and some speak lies. So discernment is very important.

This is were things can get tricky. My perfect church would have a wonderful teacher, who has been trained well. The problem is, all good universities, which teach scripture in their natural languages or teaches theology, are branded schools. They are Presbyterian, Baptist or other denominational schools. This is regrettable because the learner is then indoctrinated in that brand. It would be the same as if all medical schools were owned by one of many drug companies. The doctors coming from those schools would each be tainted in the way they view reality.

As a monist, I believe that our brains and bodes as well as this world are all important, I also realize that our brains, emotions etc are tainted. I have much less confidence in the obscure doctrines (the ones that separate most denominations) than graduates from branded schools of theology. They have been taught (via their scholastic-thus Aristotelian, influences) that reason can help you know all obscure truth to the point of making it dogma.

One way around this need for good teaching, especially if my church was small and could not attract a good teacher, is the use of electronic media. There are many, many excellent lecture series out there on scripture, theology, philosophy current issues etc (by Christian thinkers). Using these resources would be no different than how the early Churches, which was scattered in Asia Minor (who did not have well-educated teachers locally) did rely heavily on Paul's letters. He was their teacher in abstention.

So, at this point my perfect church would not have a building, would have at least two elders for leadership and great teaching (maybe via DVD, tapes etc.).

More in future postings.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mike's "Perfect Church" -- Part V - Foundations

I've try to lay the foundation that the purpose of the Church, is for the believer's good, and not as a mechanism for earning God's pleasure.

With that said, I then ask (without trying to sound so self-centered) what do I, or any Christian need, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually and socially?

I omitted one other important purpose of the Church, and that is the Church as God's gift to the world (including the non-Christian world). As in Genesis 18:18 "Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him." The Church, as the grafted-in new Israel, is God's mode of blessing to the entire world. Mike's perfect church should reflect that blessing.

My ideal Church should be a source of all these things . . . . more to come.

The Purpose of the "driven" Church

Homor's Puritan-Self-Flagellation

I'm going to write brutally honestly here, so don't be shocked.
I write from the experience of growing up in a Baptist church, sending 15 years with The Navigators and attending many other Churches for the past 25 years.

I truly believe that the real reason that most people go to church is for penitence. They do it because; 1) they believe that God wants them to and to fail going, they will disappoint God. If they miss church, they will suffer from guilt until the next opportunity to go to , 2) To worship God, through praise songs worship service, 3) See friends, and then maybe, 4) Pastor's teaching.

I mentioned "penitence" as a reason that many people go to church to my pastor, and he became very offended that I would suggest that. He is a good teacher, but even in our chruch, I've spoken to many people who say they don't listen to him . . . but come to chruch because as Christians, they "have to."

Now this trend may vary from place to place. For example, the Baptist church I grew up in, I am sure it was strictly penitence. It was beat into our heads at a very early age that "God wants you in church!" The church itself was a joke. Sunday school is where we younger boys learned (from older boys) how to get into your girlfriend's pants, how to make pipe bombs and the like. The pastor there was a terribly boring speaker. He didn't teach scripture but more a Norman Vincent Peale feel-good sermon with one verse. But he was not as articulate as Joel Osteen. I'm sure the reason so many people go to Osteen's huge church is for the good-feeling pick, me up.

I suspect that the people who attend the more charismatic Churches do so for the lively worship.

This is where we need to go back and re-visit scripture. I will not quote a lot of verses here, besides you know them all and because I frankly don't have time to look them up and post them. I do encourage you to re-read the entire Bible and look for the trend I am about to describe.

We Christians must come to grips that we are pleasing to God, in Christ plus nothing. It isn't Jesus and going to church each Sunday or Jesus and anything. Our Godliness is Christ's covering.

Starting, even in the Old Testament, I see God as giving His law as two-fold; 1) To drive us to Christ (by the impossibility of fulfilling it) and, 2) God's gift to mankind. By following God's rules we live better. But I do not see the Bible as a source of rules to obey in order to win God's pleasure. Our righteousness is God's gift in Christ.

Growing up, we were told that the Bible is a list of God's rules, that we need to follow, in order to please Him. The Navigators that I was involved with had the same perspective. So, Church is not about (in my humble opinion) things we can do to make us God-pleasing, but Church should be seen as God's gift to us.

But, in Scripture, I also see men (and women) as constantly getting it mixed up. From Solomon, who wanted to build God a temple. God made it clear that he wasn't asking for a temple. It seems that in the end, He did grant Solomon the privilege for building Him a temple . . . but it seems to be for Solomon's sake not for God's.

But God serving us makes us very uncomfortable. It reminds me of Jesus' conversation with Peter in John 13:8

"No," said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me."

Next this brings us to the Sabbath. I could do many postings on this subject a lone, but like with all of God's commands, the Sabbath law was given for two-fold reasons; 1) Drive us to Christ, as a metaphor of the rest that we have in Christ, and 2) for OUR benefit. We need rest and God, who made us, knows this best.

In my growing up, we were taught that Sunday was the Sabbath and it was the Lord's Day. It was designed FOR GOD. Therefore, we had to get up, go to church, no swearing, no working (not for our benefit but to simply please God) and do this and that on that day to please God because it was His day . . . not ours.

So, my last point of deconstructing all that we have previously thought about the Church is this; the purpose of the church is not a program for us to earn God's good pleasure . . . but as God's good gift to us. So, as I re-construct, what I think is my ideal Church/church (big C and little c), I will come from this angle that it is God's gift for me.

I know that this sounds egocentric. This makes us very uncomfortable, as it did Peter above. With my conversations with Muslims, this is the big difference in our approach to God. They see Islam as man attempting to do things to please God. Christianity is all about God doing things for us.

With those things said, I will now attempt to start my re-construction of my ideal church. But, I will mention again, this is Mike-centric. What I see as my ideal church is not a meta-narrative for what church should be for everyone. I have many, many wonderful friends who would feel completely out of place in the church I create, but very comfortable in the normal American Evangelical church.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mike's Perfect Church Part III

Before I move on, I do want to go back and make something clear.

As I "deconstruct" the present form of the church in American, I am not saying that form is bad. I do not agree with the house church proponent Gene Edwards, who has said that he would like to throw a lighted torch in the door of every church in America.

I see the American interpretation of the church as amoral . . . neither good or bad in itself. Actually, in my idealism I never see the demise of the church as it is, because the vast majority of American Christians could only relate to that form. To them a building with a steeple, a vestibule, Sunday school at 9 AM and preaching at 11 AM is their Chrisitian world. Take that away and they would be lost.

The problem is, holding the present forms as absolute as old wineskins that cannot hold any sort of new wine.

More later.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mike’s “Perfect Church” Deconstruction Part II

Before I venture on, deconstructing Church history, I must add that I have a tremendous respect for many historical Christians. This includes the great thinkers and leaders such as Augustine and Luther as well as the very-early Church fathers. Actually the very early fathers (such as who wrote the Nicene Creed) had a much better grip on the effects of Gnostic Dualism than their modern Church counterparts.

With that said I am prepared to reduce the essentials down to simple Biblical mandates as a starting place. If you still doubt my first step, the deconstruction of Church history, go to scripture and read what it says about tradition. Most of the New Testament references to tradition (different than the Fiddler on the Roof father) are not flattering. Tradition is just another name for the art of taking our Church history as its mandate. For example believing, “If it has always been done that way, then God has thus ordained it.”

We are now back to scripture, with nothing more but the word of God and a tabula rosa. Then we have to separate out, within scripture that which God has given as a mandate and that as a historical record. Sometimes Christians confuse the two. On the first hand, scripture, through the voices of the prophets, God Himself, or Christ . . . we are instructed as what to do. In the second case, it is a historical statement about what was done.

So, when Paul speaks in Timothy or Philippians about deacons, it is not a mandate that all churches have deacons. It is given as a historical example of how to solve the problem of needing food servers, but nowhere does it say the Church must have deacons to be a church.

There are other such historical references to overseers, pastors and the like. If you read verses such as I Peter 5:2 you will see that it is clear they there is no mandate that there are overseers.

But common sense tells us that there must be a hierarchy and the scriptures give us good example to emulate but not mandates.

So what is mandated? The only real mandate that I can find is to not forsaking getting together, but to meet and to ENCOURAGE one another . . . period. There’s no mandate for buildings, frequency of meetings, which day to meet on etc. Most church doctrine, when it comes to these issues of form, is inferred. However, my good friends will argue with me until they are blue in their kind faces that their church structure is from God and the only one that is really from God.

When that establish, I will move on to the more practical things that would appeal to me in my ideal church.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Mike's "Perfect Church" -- Part I Deconstruction

A few months ago Michael Spencer on his Blog, described his concept of the "ideal church." Based on that concept and discussion I wanted to attempt to do the same. To do this discussion justice, I have to post in at least two parts, probably more.

To start with a clean slate, regarding the practical application of the local church, I would like to deconstruct our whole concept of "church," with a small "c."

But, before I can deconstruct church history I have to go back discuss how we think of history and how our philosophical orientation—being Dualistic or Monist—affects that view.

Most of my Christian friends see history as directed by God. The direction that history has gone in, over the ages, is the direction that God wanted it to go in. In other words, the Church that we have . . . is the church that God, in His sovereignty has ordained. The odd thing about this, is that my good Lutheran friends believe that the Lutheran (and their particular synod of Lutheranism) is what God has created. The same is true with my good PCA friends, my Christian Reformed friends and etc. All my protestant friends would see the pre-reformation Catholic Church as deeply flawed and evil. On the other hand, my Catholic friends believe their church is the Church that Jesus established on the shoulders of Peter himself.

There is a dichotomy in the thinking of these sincere and honorable friends. This dichotomy is in the schism between each of their concepts of the ideal church and knowing that they can’t all be right.

I believe that the common Evangelical, with their Dualistic perspective, must see history in this light (what is . . . is what God wanted). If you start with the premise that his physical world is inferior to the spiritual, then all events of this physical world must be defined via those terms. Human history makes no sense to them. That would mean fallen people doing fallen things can lead to outcomes that are fallen. They believe that God must be behind every human process, including the development of the present Church form (pay your money and take your choice on which is the one God so ordained).

But a Monist can look at things differently without taking away from God’s sovereignty and omniscience. A monist can say that human history is not junk, but does matter. So bad people can do bad things and change history in a bad way. Good people can do real things to fix ( redeem) history. Good (but fallen) people can make some mistakes (accidentally or via sin) that can influence history as well. God is in control and has promised that no one can “kill your spirit” but does not promise that all that is, is exactly the way He intended it.

So a monist does not accept what is as what God intended and this is no insult to Him. Beginning at this point, we can then go back to scripture and see what God wanted of the Church without adding layer upon layer of Church history as part of God’s grand design for the present fellowship of believers.

May the discussion begin! More to come in Part II.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The PolyAnna Approach - A Place of Christian Cynicism?

Sometimes a wave of guilt comes over me, leaving me drenched in a sense that I'm always being negative on this Blog. I think there is some truth to that impression and it is reflective of my personality. But it isn't that I aways am looking at the class as half empty. No, it is more of a feeling that everyone else is living with a half-empty glass and they are saying, and believing, that the glass is as full as it can get. What I am really doing, is screaming, "It can be better than this!"

The Church can be much better than what it is. The way that we think and live christianly, can be much more healthy (emotionally) than the dysfunctional state that so many of us settle for. That's what motivates me.

I spent fifteen years in a very extreme discipleship group, the old Navigators. I say, "old" because they have reformed some since then. It was fifteen years of hard, emotional and spiritual labor, trying to find God's pleasure . . . but to no avail.

I think I do share, write and think in the same way as Luther and the thousands of the unspoken "Luthers" who has stood in opposition to the status quo. We need people crying in the wilderness, like THE DOOR (see its link on the side-bar). They know how to have a good time, making fun of the despicable acts of the likes of TV Evangelist. Those are the modern examples of who Christ would throw out of the temple.

Also as the father of five young adults, I am concerned about the masses (60-80%) who have grown up in a Christian home . . . but then leave the Church once emancipated.

But there is great joy in knowing Christ, and even greater joy when you come to grips of the real Gospel . . . God's pleasure in us, through Christ . . . plus nothing!

I know that the Polyanna Christians, such as Joel Osteen, draw the masses. I think Joel's church is the largest in the country and he is the most popular Christian author. But I do believe that there are still many out there, like me, who want to escape the feel-good, or step-by-step (how to) Christianity for the real. Now that would give you something to smile about.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Palestinian Question – Jimmy Carter’s Visit to Hamas

Jimmy Carter in Egypt with Hosni MuBarak

I know that this is a heavy topic for me to address as a “drive-by blogger” between my patients' visits. I could easily do research and spend weeks on addressing this complex topic and even write a book on it. It has been a dear topic to me for decades. I served as a missionary in the Middle East and I think I know more about the topic than the average Evangelical.

Why am I even brining it up now? It’s for two reasons. You may not have noticed, but there as been a controversy this week about Jimmy Carter visiting with Hamas leaders today in Cairo, at my old school-The American University in Cairo. I won’t waste time explaining the controversy here as you can read about it through the above link.

The second issue is that my pastor, who is a true Evangelical (as I am not) just returned from a visit to Israel. I heard him twice tell the story of how Israel became a nation . . . in a fair and God-directed way. The just way, according to him (and I suspect this is what the Evangelical O.T. professor told them on the trip) was that the Jews began moving back to Palestine in the 1920s and 30s and were buying land from the Arabs at a good price. This view adds, that the European Jews never forced Palestinians off their land. They had agreed with the Arabs to sell the land at an above-market-value. But, then all the problems happened because the Arabs are evil people, and got greedy, wanting their land back.

The pastor adds that he did meet with a group of Palestinian Christians, who have a very different view—but he adds that their view was odd and he does not agree with it.

I’ve had the chance to meet with many Arab people, both Christians and Muslims. Some of them were first generation Palestinians . . . who were eye-wittinesses to the forced expatriation that happened in the 1940s. I would love to tell their story here, but again time is a limiting factor. I strongly suggest the book Blood Brothers by Elais Chacour. Here is a Christian Palestinian Orthodox Priest giving his eye-wittiness (and I think benevolent) account of the events. I will recommend Jimmy Carter’s book; Palestine: Peace not Apartheid (which I have not read yet). Remember that Jimmy is a self-proclaimed, born-again, conservative, Southern Baptist guy and does not support the typical Evangelical view (probably because he is a man of peace and he really does know history).

Why then, is there so much misinformation about the problem, especially within American Evangelicalism?

When you start from a Christian-Dualistic view of the cosmos, where only the spiritual matters, then human history is not as important as theological dogma. Theological dogma is achieved by, in the case of Christians, by reading scripture, using logic and illogical "spitirtual" insight.

But logic doesn’t have a huge amount of merit in the eyes of the Christian-Dualists because it is a function of the physical brain (except for the scholastics who went too far saying that reason was not fallen). But then, there’s the spiritual interpretation of scripture, which has enormous esteem among fundamentalist and Evangelicals.

The problem is the “Spiritual interpretation” is very vulnerable. The theologian or pastor can say “the Holy Spirit” showed me such and such and then it is hard to disagree with them. But scripture is clear that our hearts ( emotions ) are NOT trust worthy. As a Monist, I can say that the emotions are very important, as is the brain, human history, cause and effect—without having to spiritualize everything. I am also aware that we are fallen. Our emotions are fallen as well as our logic, and they can not be trusted to reach absolute dogma.

So, to make sense of this, as it pertains to the Palestinian question, I will come back to Church history. Any mainstream church historian is aware that the Church’s view of Israel has not been the same as it has since the days of C.I. Scolfield (1843-1921). There were even long periods of time in Church history that Christians erred on the anti-Semitic side (which was also terrible).

Mr Scolfield, a lawyer by training, used his fallen logic to come up with a comprehensive way of interpreting scripture, dividing history into great eras of dispensations (ignoring 1800 years of Biblical interpretation by brilliant scholars). These ephods of history (as defined by Scolfield) eventually included the re-establishment of Israel as a nation as a requirement for the ushering in of the second coming of Christ.

This type of dispensationalism became vogue in colloquial, Christian thinking, despite denominational affiliation. For example, I became a Christian through a Navigator ministry which was part of a Presbyterian Church (PUSA). As far as I know, the PUSA does not subscribe to Scolfield Dispensationalism. Yet, the man that led me to the Lord made it clear that we were living “in the Last Days.,” His point was that because Israel became a nation in 1947, thus “within one generation” of that the end would come. If you want to read how this conclusion was reached, with a lot of scripture taken out of context, do a search for CI Scolfied or go the Christians United for Israel web page .

When you combine this dogma with the other flaw of Christian Dualism (that cause and affect in this physical world has no value, that every event, even the most tiniest of things, are all predestine or controlled by God) you can ignore all of human history. So it doesn’t matter how the Palestinians have been treated or what they say.

It is inconceivable to most on-the-street evangelicals that the very doctrine of Dispensationalism was probably the conduit for the UN, the US and Great Brittan to create the nation of Israel in the first place, a self-fulfill prophecy. Did it matter that Truman carried a Scolfield Bible? I think it did. All Evangelicals say they believe, “If it happened, the God did it.”

I must pause at this point to make sure the reader understands my true perspective. I am anything but anti-Semitic. My view point is that God created all people in His image. The scripture is very clear that God loves justice. I am not saying that Israel has no right to exist now. It would be a nightmare to try and restore the Palestinians back to their land that was taken unfairly from them. But Christians should be ashamed that they allowed a tremendous injustice to happen, and they not only looked the other way, but supported it, all because of a Scolfield doctrine. God will hopefully judge us.

As a Monist, we must look at all people as God’s chosen people. In my reading of scripture, I don’t see that God has any long-range plans for Israel as a special people. But it is amazing how a particular dogma can color our glasses so much that we can’t see the truth of history.

I could say much more.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Observations from a Day in Church – by a Post-Evangelical

I this juncture, I am know that I am taking great risks . . . making observations about people and things around me that may not always be flattering and I’m using my real name. My intentions are good and I know that I may easily be misunderstood.

My perspective, as a Post-Evangelical, is not that I’m on some higher theological or moral ground than those I will comment about. I comment as an observer, a pilgrim or correspondent (maybe even as Alice in the Land of Wonder), trying to describe the crazy world that we Evangelicals have created around us.

I also do not mean to be critical for the sake of criticism, as if were a hobby of mine. One of the paradoxes of Evangelicalism is that there are strong mores within that subculture not to be critical “having a critical spirit” or not to “judge lest you be judged.” With these social configurations in place, it is no wonder that Evangelism can be stuck in unchallenged, dogmatic positions.

The reason I go to church is that I do not have a good alternative. Being a free-lance Christian is not a Biblical option. We really do need each other and one of the things that frustrates me most with the Evangelical church is how badly I need other Christians, but the church is only set up for dishonest, superficial relationships. The second reason is because I really do like the people that I go to church with. I think they are great people. I am not a critic of them nor of the true Church but of the American Evangelical Subculture.

My first observation came as I sought out the wife of a friend, the friend recently being diagnosed with cancer. I had an honest reason, because I cared for him and I love the family and I really wanted to know what was going on with him and maybe how we can help. In the context of the Church vestibule, and with more than one other Christian around to listen, his wife, like the normal, typical evangelical, began to give a theological discourse on the “why” of the disease. Smiling, God did this for a reason to teach x, y and z. I don’t know why we Evangelicals feel like we have to justify all bad things this way, I guess to show people that we have a “spiritual” perspective.

When I interact with non-believers, it is much better. They tell me what I really want to know . . . how the sick person is feeling, needing etc. They don’t mind saying their family member feels like crap, is depressed and confused.

I know, when I’ve been through bad things, it is very, very difficult to tell the truth at church. If I run into a fellow church member at the grocery store, there may be an opening to share with them (in private) that I’m having a hard time. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could go to church with the guard down? Something like the following;

Fellow church member; “How’s your week?”
Me; “It’s not been a very good week. My wife, Denise, and I had a fight, now I feel guilty. My car broke down and that makes me very frustrated because I don’t have the money to fix it right now.”

If I did have the above dialog (and it was in the vestibule of the church), then several things would happen. The person would then assume that I am being “very unspiritual” and then they would feel like they need to teach me out to “trust the Lord.” Or, they may think that the situations that I shared about are very serious, otherwise I would not have shared about them.

So they would walk away thinking that my wife and I are having serious problems, maybe near divorce. They may have fought with their wives even more that week . . .but they would never have told anyone.

If I mentioned the car, they might think I was asking for financial help. Evangelicals are use to having deceitful ways of asking for money. I know because I use to be a missionary that had to raise their financial support. We would say, “Please pray for God to supply our needs,” when down deep, we knew that we wanted that person to give to our needs.

Then I sat through a relatively good sermon.

There was a comment during a sharing time from, I would say, our most Evangelical elder. There was a sewing of guilt on the men for not volunteering to be an elder as . . . implied . . . a turning of our backs on what God expects of us.

It would be tempting for me to succumb to the false feelings of guilt and volunteer again. I've been an elder in several Evangelical churches, including this one. My stint as an elder here was most un-rewarding. But I know that the purpose of being an elder is not to feel rewarded, but to help Shepard the church.

My experience though was one who would sit through long meetings, not where we made exciting decisions about the life of the Church, but where we listen to lectures and sermons until the point that I could feel my head caving in.

Then we were to rubber stamp decisions that had already been made for us, well before the meeting had been held. I could bare it no longer . . . not with a good attitude, and I allowed my term to expire. If a secular meeting was held this way, like hospital board meetings, there would be a quick outrage. But I shed the feelings of guilt as I come back to the reality that I can not, with a clear consciences, put my name in the hat again . I assume that's why none of the other men would step forward. It is not because of our lack of spiritual fortitude but in some ways the opposite. I assume, like me, many other men know that the only way they could serve would be to wrap themselves with an even deeper facade.

During the Sunday school time, the same dear (and I honestly do consider him dear) Evangelical elder shared his example of being persecuted as a Christian. It happened when he forbade the drinking of alcohol or saying bad words in his presence and these non-Christian fellow workers tricked him by putting alcohol in his punch.

The thought came to me as he spoke, a sad thought, that the non-Christian world is virtually out of reach of this, or any, Evangelical church.

My last observation was a conversation I over heard about Israel being God's future and continued chosen people. That the taking of the Palestine, in the 1940s, was kind and just. That the Israelites had paid the Palestinians well for their land (and they had agreed to sell it) but then changed their minds.

This belief is so far out of touch of eye-witnessed history, that it is nothing less than ignorant dogma, with a small d. As a previous missionary to the Muslims, I felt a deep grief. As long as the American church holds these politically motivated, but historically inaccurate, views, we have little chance of reaching the lost Muslims. How sad. Don't the American Evangelicals know that for 1850 years of Church history, that Israel was not looked on in this manner, which was concocted by the dispensationalist of the nineteenth century? Don't they know that they are alone in this deep love for Israel among world Churches? Don't we serve a loving and just God? A God who wants justice for all people, for the Jews of Nazi Europe as well as the Palestinians? Jimmy Carter is correct in his understanding of the present problem . . . and he is a staunch Baptist.

So I leave the church sad again. I desire God. I desire fellowship and being a part of something. I deeply, deeply desire accountability from brother, with whom I can speak honestly. I desire to throw all my energy behind a local people who have not been bewitched by the American Evangelical subculture, who hold scripture as higher than culture, but my desires once again are thwarted.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Liar-Liar, the art of lying for Jesus

I'm working on this post and will finish it by tomorrow.

To wet your appetite, this posting was the result of reading Frank Schaeffer's book Portofino. which I bought at the famous bookstore, Powell's Books in Portland. I read the entire book in 24 hours, which is very unusual for me. I've mentioned it in previous post.

This is not a review about the fictional book (also a quasi-autobiography) but a review or discussion about an interview done with Frank Schaeffer at Powells . The interview was sparked by the release of Frank's later book Crazy for God. I've also discussed this book previously.

If you read the interview, Frank's (and I think he is being honest) reason for writing Crazy for God, is that he is tired of lying. This is what I think attacks me to Frank's writings. His parents (Francis and Edit Schaeffer) are as much as my Christian heroes as anyone, while at the same time, it is very attractive to me to know that they were far from perfect. The reason that I find that so appealing (maybe in a morbid way) is that for many years, as an Evangelical, we held up leaders and Christian heroes as almost perfect. The best example are the missionary biographies, such as Hudson Taylor, that portrayed them as bigger than, and more perfect than, life.

So I find this great comfort in having a Christian person whom I deeply admire (like Francis Schaeffer) and who has some major character flaws . . . because I too am made of the same fallen stuff. I too have some anger problems. I too can be lazy etc.

When I first started to return to Christianity in the early 90s (after having a crises of faith and was on the verge of reverting back to my old agnosticism) I found myself standing on the steps (figuratively) of the Church and trying to decided, if I go back in, who will I be? The point being, just like any sub-culture, within Christendom, there is tremendous peer pressure to lie . . . to lie for Jesus. I remember vowing (almost audibly) that I would never, ever do that again. I'm sure I have, as the pressure to lie for Jesus is tremendous.

I really believe that this is what Frank is talking about. If you read his books (Portifino, Zermatt and the book I am now reading, Saving Grandma) you will see the dichotomy between Christian spiritual talk and reality.

An immediate example is at church. If the church has a brief moment of "fellowship" where everyone greets one another, and some one asked, "How's your week" and you are an elder, can you say, "My week was crap. My boss owes me $10,000 that he's refusing to pay and I may have to take him to court, my daughter wrecked the car and I threw my freaken back out!" Now you can but you would have no spiritual respect from fellow Christians.

Now, even though you may feel crappy, but smile and say, "It's been a week of blessings, " then you will for sure be voted in as elder again.

It's not about always being negative or always being positive . . . it is about always being honest. There is nothing unspiritual about saying your week sucked. There is no statement that has more truth than the old, 1980s, statement "SHIT HAPPENS." We do live in a fallen world.

Now, there's no reason to get all depressed about it. But we should have the freedom to tell the truth. Maybe the reason you want to be in a particular Bible study is to look good . . . or to see Joe's wife, who you think is pretty. Now that's not a good reason, but it may be a real reason. That's the level of honesty that Frank Schaeffer speaks on.

I would love to be part of a church's greeting time, where it was extended to at least 30 minutes and people really did tell you how their week was. I DO want to hear about their troubles rather than superficial smiles and handshakes.

I don't read missionary newsletters anymore. We get quite a few, even from our old colleagues on the field. The reason is, they only paint a positive, spiritual facade over their real lives. We went through a missionary letter-writing course where we were instructed to 1) start with a verse and end with a verse, 2) teach the reader something new about Jesus, 3) tell a little about yourself . . . but only in the most positive way, 4) make your financial needs known but only in the form of a "prayer request" and 5) write only in third person. Crap, crap mega crap!

I get letters from missionaries who follow this exact format and it is a total waste of time to read it. I want to know what's really going on.

I can not express how refreshing it was to get a missionary letter from friends of ours a few years ago (from Germany). It was obvious that it was Karl writing and the first thing he said was, "I've come to the conclusion that I am a alcoholic and I'm getting help. Please pray for my recovery." Man alive, it was the best news letter I had ever read. I not only prayed for Karl but I immediately wrote him a letter of support.

When I was a missionary in Egypt, a colleague of mine had been hospitalized with a nervous breakdown. I asked him if he had sent out a newsletter for prayer support over the matter. "Are you nuts!" he said. If I told people back home that I had a breakdown, we would loose all of financial support. I'm afraid he was right.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Religion as a "Cover for Evil"

One of the running headlines this week has been the raid on a Mormon-sect compound near Eldorado, Texas. This raid came about after the police received a call from a sixteen-year girl (wife and mother) within the compound who said she was being held against her will and being abused.

As part of this story, the media interviewed Carolyn Jessop. She has written a book Escape about her escape from this same cult. Ms Jessop made a very interesting comment duriung the interview . . . something to the effect of “Religion can be just a cover for evil.” I thought that was a very good way to summarize what she had been through.

I think she was forced to marry a 50 year-old church leader (as his 7th wife) when she was about 18. But that was only the beginning of the abuse. She bore him 8 children. He was very abusive to her and them.

She said that he never hit her, but if she didn’t completely obey him, he would hurt her children. Each of her babies were “broke” by him at a certain young age (6-9 months). It was the same as the CIA water boarding. The baby was hit by him and made to cry, then his little face was held under running water making him feel like he was drowning. He did this over and over until the baby stopped crying . . . in exhaustion. Thus the child had been “broken for God.”

Carolyn didn't even live within the fortress-compound that the police are investigating . . . but outside in the "free world." Even then, she was completely controlled by her husband and the other church leaders. She could not read books, newspapers, listen to the radio or music and certainly not watch TV. If she did, one of the other wives would "tell on her" then one of her children would be beaten.

Certainly everyone would agree that throughout the existence of humanity, religion has been used as a cover to some very primal (and selfish) desires. The examples I seem to always come back to is the Church during the Middle Ages and the present Taliban. But I then have to ask, how does this same weakness apply to me or the present Christian church in America?

I recently finished Frank Schaeffer's book Portofino. I want to do an entire posting on his book and my observations. It is a type of defacto autobiography, but I think he greatly embellished the story to make his point.

His point was having a family that was deeply flawed (who happened t be my hero Francis Schaeffer and his wife Edith) but on the surface were great Christian leaders. In the same way, their religion was a cover for their flaws. But I believe that we are all in this same boat.

One of the legacies of the "How To" Christianity (of which I am a product) is the misguided view of sanctification. I/we honestly believed that we could do X, Y and Z . . . go to conference A, B, C and we would become "godly." As a godly person, we believed that we were pretty good, did most things out of pure motives etc.

But in reality, I believe that we are wonderfully made by God, but deeply flawed by the fall and that deeply flawed nature is not erased by becoming a Christian or following the "How To" Christianity manual.

So, what happens is that we tend to stucco over (our selfish motives) a facade of righteousness? The selfish part of us is left to grow and increase.

But the good news is that Jesus has done that for us. We don't need to be perfect.

The father character in the Portofino book had a horrible anger problem, and I think that may have been true of Francis Schaeffer. I personally have a deeply embedded anxiety problem. Yeah, as a manly man I'm ashamed to admit that. But for 15 years, I denied that trait because it was inconsistent with the godly facade I was taught to exhibit. It doesn't look good in a meeting of "The Men of God" to admit "I'm scared shit-less" about something.

Now, with a proper understanding of the Gospel, we don't just give up on our behavior and attitudes . . . thinking saved by grace, covered by Christ . . . therefore it's PARTY TIME.

No, when I recognize that I have a tendency to lie, steal, fear, rage and lust . . . then I can be more cautious.

It is when I cover my real nature with a facade of religion, a kind of psychological denial, then that's when I am most dangerous. When I see myself as godly, then I mask my true intentions.

This is how a "prophet" (in this Mormon Cult) can convince himself it is okay to have lots of sex with lots of woman, even very, very young women. It is how they can convince themselves that it is okay to manipulate and oppress other people (to boast their own self-esteem). Hey, they are doing it for God . . . right. They are doing what the raw, selfish, primal part of almost every man wants to do. I want to dominate the world. I want people to obey everything I say. I want people to yield to all my insecurities and sexual passions. But when you know it is the urges of your unrepentant man then you know better than to act on it. I have a hyperactive dog, a Saint Bernard, whom I can't trust in public. So, I leave her on a short leash. I leave myself on a short leash as well.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Post-Evangelical and Ambiguity

About two months ago I read Dave Tomlinson’s The Post Evangelical. I try to walk away with one clear thought from each book that I read. This is certainly no attempt to be a review of the entire book, but to share the one thought that has stuck with me. That thought is one hallmark of the Post Evangelical is his/her being more comfortable with ambiguity.

Such notions would have scared me as recently as . . . maybe two months ago when I first read his book. It struck me as a little odd and I knew it would require a few days of prayerful-thought, before I would accept it. But now, having given it a lot of thought, I think I too can subscribe to the concept. I realized that Dave Tomlinson and I may not be thinking the exact same thing though.

The thing that would scare a Christian at first glance is the confusion between Tomlinson’s idea of comfort with ambiguity and Post-Modernisms comfort with relativism, but there is a big difference.

Most of protestant traditions have roots that go back to the Catholic Scholastics (through leaders such as Luther and Calvin). The Catholic Scholastics had been deeply influenced by the writings of Aristotle (via the Spanish Moors). In an oversimplification, Aristotle believed that reason, the verbalization of logic, was the essence of being human, and it was perfect.

To make a long story short, from the Scholastics through our Protestant forefathers, reason was held up to an unhealthy level. I too believe that learning, reason and wisdom are of tremendous value, but it is not without being tainted by the Fall of Adam.

Therefore, I believe that the aspirations of some of our great protestant theologians—of reaching and maintaining perfect doctrine—are misguided. This does not render us as hopeless. We should strive for truth and indeed we can know truth, but we can’t know all truth all the time. We can probably know all the truth that God thinks that we need to know.

This is where this concept of ambiguity of the Post-Evangelical is very different from the Post-Modern relativism. To the Post-Modern truth is unknowable because it is relative. To the Post-Evangelical, truth is absolute, but God doesn’t tell us everything and the things that He did make clear (in scripture) are hard for us to figure out.

Starting with the Thirty-Years war (1618-1648), Christian’s have fought and disagreed on the truth that God had “shown them.” I think a big part of the problem, and the endless division within the Church, was this over-confidence that they could know the truth even with the most minuscule details of doctrine.

I’m going to share some of the areas of ambiguity that I am ready to be comfortable with (which would have terrified me with fears of becoming a liberal twenty years ago).

The Age of the Earth.

Many of my Evangelical friends believe that you can not be a conservative (or true in other words) Christian unless you believe that the Earth was created in six literal days, and the cosmos is only 6 thousand years old.

I personally find this insane. There is overwhelming evidence of the earth being much, much older . . . that the only way you can believe that the earth is that young is by living in the Christian fantasy that all evolutionists are stupid and evil (with an agenda to lie about the fossils).

I do believe that the earth is very old . . . but that does not solve all the problems. There are some scriptural problems with the old earth, trying to make sense out of Genesis. There are also theological problems, such as the death of creatures long before sin entered into the world.

At this point, I can suspend judgment and say that either my fallen reason cannot deal with this, or God never consider this problem as being an essential . . . or He would have laid in out in black in white.

Elect or Free Will

The other area is about God’s sovereignty (in choosing people to be Christians even before they were born) and what appears to be man’s free will seems like a paradox. There have been many Christians killed by opposing Christians over the centuries because where they come down on this issue. But a Post-Evangelical can say, “I’m not sure.”

Moral Ambiguity

I could go own and own. But I will leave it with one more arena and that is in the area of morals. Like with truth, there is also a big difference between the Post-Modernists’ view on morals. They believe that morals are personal and relative, but, the Post-Evangelicals’ view morals as absolute but not always clear.
I could give many examples of this . . . but I will refrain

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sovereignty of God – The Corner We Paint Ourselves Into

This posting will NOT be a theological discourse on the Sovereignty of God. There has been books and upon books, articles after articles written on the topic by far more scholarly people than myself. Of course there is not agreement even within Christendom on the conclusions, but there is a popular perspective that you will hear from Christians across the theological board.

I personally have been a Calvinist for most of my life, but what I’m about to say does not taint my view (I don’t think) because I want to address the colloquial, on-the-street views of the typical Evangelical. If you are interested in a comprehensive review of the subject, then read something like Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian faith. On the other side, you may want to read something by Jacobus Arminus, a Dutch theologian who wrote views in opposition to Calvin.

In colloquial Evangelicalism, the believer is faced with several philosophical issues that he/she attempts to answer through a precise definition of God’s Sovereignty.

1). The first problem is God’s bigness (or omnificence). Rightly, the Evangelical (differ from the Greeks) recognizes that for God to be God, there can be nothing bigger, like chance or fate. A God who controls everything is a God big enough that He is above fate.

2). The next problem is the Evangelical’s needs to make meaning out of their personal lives. If X happened, then God, a loving and just God, must have caused it to happen. Otherwise, if the event was caused by the simple laws of nature, the event would be meaningless at best and possibly cruel at worst. To solve this problem of finding meaning in life, the Evangelical feels that they must have a God that is not only bigger than everything (including fate) but also who is also the ultimate micro-manager with puppeteer strings attached to every leaf on a tree, every speck of dust and certainly to every neuron in our brains.

3). Connected to number 2, is the psychological need for security. “God is in control, so nothing can go wrong.”

This brings me to the Today Show episode featuring the families of the two girls that were mixed up when the school van that they were riding in crashed and killed six on April 26, 2006. For details of the story click here.

As you may know, the two girls, Laura VanRyn and Whitney Cerak were switched at the scene. "Whitney" was pronounced dead and "Laura" was transported to the hospital in critical condition. Larua’s parents took care of her for five weeks before they discovered that she was really Whitney Cerak.

On the Today Show the comment was made:

"The Ceraks might have been angry at the Van Ryns for not realizing the mistake sooner. The Van Ryns might have resented the fact that the Ceraks had their daughter back while they had lost theirs.

Both families might have sued the truck driver, the trucking company he worked for, and anyone else they could think of.

None of the above happened, because the families believe that everything that happens is part of God’s plan, and their duty is to accept it. "

Before I get into this, I want to make it clear that my heart goes out to the entire family and I am sure that they are good people. But I do think there are some mistakes in their thinking, that has deep Christian Culture (and Dualistic ) roots that I wanted to point out. I do this, not to be cruel, but because of my compassion. When Christians think wrongly, I believe that their pain is magnified. I also think that we have a less chance of reaching the loss when we have irrational theology.

If you are a Dualist (as I believe that most Evangelicals are) then you see this world, the laws of Newton, nature itself, our emotions, our brains and even our bodies as greatly inferior to the "spiritual." Spiritual here would mean God, heaven and our own souls. The Dualist looks at the physical cosmos as if it was not of God, maybe even opposed to God.

Therefore, any event in this physical world (in the Dualist's eyes) must have strings attached to spiritual forces (satanic, or God) in the heavens.

So in the case of Laura and Whitney . . . it doesn't make good theological sense to the families that a guy would just dose off, due to his lack of sleep, increase in the levels of dopamine in his brain (etc.) and then, because he is sleeping, he pulls on the wheel of his truck, it crosses the mid-line striking the van. It doesn't make sense that, following perfectly the laws of physics, the huge truck would caused the type of damage to kill people.

It doesn't make sense people with good intentions would accidentally pick up Laura's pocket book along with Whitney's limp (but alive) body and take them to the hospital.

All these events, in their eyes, must have been directed by God. God pulled the steering wheel over and literally closed the eyes of the truck driver. God caused the van to be in the right place. God caused the heavy sharp metal of the truck to cut into the flesh in a terrible and deadly way.

God blinded the eyes of the people on the scene so they would mix of the bodies and create this awful situation. It was God that closed the eyes of the VanRyans so that they did not realize that the girl in the bed, and then had started to walk, was not their daughter. Even the girl's friends knew it wasn't her. But God must have closed the parents eyes. No, it couldn't have been their psychological make up, the intense desire to believe that their daughter was alive that caused them not to see the truth . . . could it?

This is insane! Can anyone really want to serve a God this cruel . . . who would cause such a mess only so He could teach someone patience or to depend on Him.

Now imagine that this world is not crap. That physics really do matter. That the physiology of sleep deprivation really does matter. That the way the human body is made, when it is cut up, it dies. This is the world that God has made. It is wonderful . . . but it is NOT safe. Maybe it was safe or at least safer before the Fall of Adam.

No where in scripture does it say that God controls all events in this life. People can pull out verses to support their views. One of the main passages is the following from Matthew 10:

26"So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny[d]? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Read the verse carefully and in context. Usually verse 29 is taken away from 26-28. "It says, don't be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." Indeed, bad guys can kill you. Bad drivers can kill you. Accidents (following the laws of physics) can kill you in this fallen world, and those things are not from the hand of God as part of "His plan." But, the great protection is, no one, but God, can condemn you. That's where our safety lies.

This doesn't diminish the power of God. It isn't like He doesn't have the power to control every speck of dust, but he has already created a system (some know as Newton's laws) and therefore he doesn't need to counteract that system--but he could. Prayer is not in vain to change the laws of God's nature. Sometimes He does it.

I first came to this discussion after suffering a very perplexing failure on the mission field. Things did not make sense and I could not understand why "God was doing this to me." Especially when I felt that I had been very faithful to Him. In my many readings in those days, I came across Philip Yancy's book "Disappointment with God."

In that book, Philip tells the story of going to meet a man who had a serious of personal disasters, and he was not bitter at God. When Philip asked him why he was not bitter, his answer was simple, "God didn't do this. These things happen in the fallen world (including his wife dying from cancer and him being blinding from a car accident on the why home from visiting his wife in the hospital).

The writings I mentioned above by Calvin and Arminus do deal with this aspect of God, but it seems to focus only as it applies to salvation. Does God choose us or do we choose Him?

I really don't think the Church has done a very good job of trying to answer the age-old question of why bad things happen. It is the assumption of the American Evangelical subculture that God plans every thing. That attitude, I'm afraid, leads to a lot of disillusioned Christians, who leave the faith after a personal disaster . . . or at least they don't allow themselves to mourn fully.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Observations from a Brief Vacation

Last week was spring break for four of my kids (two in college and two in high school). My daughter (17) went on a school trip to Japan. My son 20, had to work. So my son 21 and my son 15 went with my wife on I on a 4-day mini-vacation. What was our destination? First to Powells’ books in Portland. It is considered one of the largest bookstores (new and used books) in the world. After that we headed out to the real-Washington coast (vs Puget Sound where we live).

Observation # 1: Is going to a book store for vacation really that weird?
We went out to dinner and a play with friends the night before our departure. They asked us where we were going and we told them. The wife literally burst out in laughter asking, “A bookstore for vacation?”

Is that really that strange? I mean, we usually do things more exciting, like last spring break of hiking trough France, Italy and Egypt. Our kids (most thanks going to my wife) see very little difference between a real-life adventure and entering an imaginary adventure through a book. I think that’s healthy and doesn’t have to be on opposing ends of the scale (real-life adventurer Vs literary fiction).

The bookstore was a wonderful experience. We bought about 15 books between us, and spent the next couple of days reading them. I (very rare for me) finished a book Portofino by Frank Schaeffer in one day. The content of that book will be a new posting of its own.

Observation # 2 The Today Show and the Sovereignty of God

On my first day of vacation I slept in and watched most of the Today Show from bed. They had on the show (I am sure carefully orchestrated by the publisher of their just-released book) the two families who’s daughters Laura Van Ryn and Whitney Cerak were mixed up after a tragic motor vehicle accident in Michigan. Both families are confessing Christians. The well-meaning father of the girl that died, Don Van Ryn, says that the whole ordeal was directed by the hand of God for a purpose. This includes the tragic car crash that killed five other Taylor University (a Christian school) students and the subsequent mix up where they thought that their daughter was the one that survived.

I am a Calvinist and probably attend the same type of church as do the Van Ryns (with a name like “Van” they must be Christian Reformed . . . formally known as Dutch Reformed). This concept of God the puppeteer is widely accepted by Evangelical Christians from all walks of life. However, when we come at tragic events in life in two angles, God is directing, or micromanaging every detail and He loves us very much and has a plan for us . . . we quickly paint ourselves into a corner. I really want to examine that in detail in a future posting, because, once again, Dualistic thinking is leading to this misunderstanding.

Observation # 3: A large portion of our society is becoming out of reach (culturally) by our traditional Evangelical churches.

Hanging out at Powells bookstore (the home, stomping grounds of Don Miller) I saw a spectrum of people, different people. I think the unifying theme is an emphasis on cultural freedom. Goths, a man in a kilt, people dressed as actors in a fantasy game, gays, cross dressers. The main cultural (at least fashion) narrative that I sensed, is simply that there is no narrative . . . and no one stared at the more than 50% that were alternative.

We need a new kind of wineskin for the church that these people would go to. I hope to discuss that much more in the future as well.