Showing posts from January, 2015

Why Having a Heart of Gold is Not What Christianity is About

January 30, 2015 by 64 Comments Image via Wikimedia Commons
By Very Rev. Robert Barron
Many atheists and agnostics today insistently argue that it is altogether possible for non-believers in God to be morally upright. They resent the implication that the denial of God will lead inevitably to complete ethical relativism or nihilism. And they are quick to point out examples of non-religious people who are models of kindness, compassion, justice, etc. In point of fact, a recent article has proposed that non-believers are actually, on average, more morally praiseworthy than religious people. In this context, I recall Christopher Hitchens remark that, all things considered, he would be more frightened of a group of people coming from a religious meeting than a group coming from a rock concert or home from a night on the town. God knows (pun intended) that during the last twenty years we’ve seen plenty of evidence from around the world of the godly behaving very badly ind…

Ecology of a Worship Gathering

The design of a space is never neutral; it always communicates some specific value. For example, what does it say about someone’s values if they set their living room T.V. off in a corner, while all the furniture is turned towards a window looking out into the back yard? The way a room is set up communicates certain values. Physical spaces have a way of shaping our feelings and even behavior. The church worship gathering is no different.How we design the physical space of our worship gatherings matter.How does our gathering space shape us for mission? How does it shape us for community?We already ask interrogating questions in relation to preaching since we are so intensely an information-transaction-culture. Yet we often forget to inspect the mediums we are using to communicate those messages. What if the medium we use has a message of its own? 
The very spatial mediums we use to communicate those messages shape and architect us in powerful ways. In fact, as a medium, the literal phys…

5 Things Everyone Should Know About America’s Religious History
January 28, 2015

Why we need to retell the American story.
by Peter Manseau Peter Manseau is a journalist, historian, and novelist. His most recent book, One Nation, Under Gods: A New American Historyis a deeply researched account that challenges standard Christian perspectives of the country’s story. Here, he offers a list of counter-intuitive facts about religion in America. 1. Islam was here from the beginning. Far from a twenty-first century problem, the fraught relationship between Islam and Christianity shaped the earliest interactions between the Old World and the New. In the shadow of the Reconquista — the reconquering of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors — the Spanish established laws to prevent Islamic influence from reaching the Americas, yet made use of enslaved Muslim converts to Catholicism in the explorations that opened the continents to European influen…

Same-sex unions in eschatological perspective - James Brownson's "Bible, Gender, Sexuality" in review

Wed, 28/01/2015 - 06:54 This is not going to be a conventional review of James Brownson’s book on gender and homosexuality in the Bible. I’ll begin with two very broad assertions, then look at the texts, and finish with some cautious and increasingly opaque conclusions—be warned. For a summary of Brownson’s argument see this post. For a detailed critical evaluation of the book see Andrew Goddard’s essay. Two broad assertions First, I think Brownson overstates his case. On the one hand, I don’t think it is as easy as he suggests to eliminate gender complementarity from the biblical notion of being “one flesh”. Same-sex union, therefore, would have to be parallel or analogous to the “one flesh” union rather than an emerging facet or subset of it. On the other, while it seems reasonable to claim that the biblical texts cannot be made to pass judgment on the apparently modern notion of loving, committed same-sex relationships, I rather doubt that the “moral logic” can be stretched to incl…

The Biggest Obstacle to Spiritual Formation

Posted on 1.27.2015 I've spoken at a quite a few churches over the last few years and have had even more conversations with ministers and pastors at churches. Most of these conversations have been about hospitality, about how we can create more welcoming and hospitable faith communities.

And over the years I've come to discern what I think is one of the biggest problems facing our churches when it comes to spiritual formation generally and hospitality specifically.

What is that problem?


Here's how Brene Brown describes scarcity in her book Daring Greatly, a quote I've shared before:
We get scarcity because we live it…Scarcity is the “never enough” problem…Scarcity thrives in a culture where everyone is hyperaware of lack. Everything from safety and love to money and resources feels restricted or lacking. We spend inordinate amounts of time calculating how much we have, want, and don’t have, and how much everyone else has, needs, and wants. Scarcit…

Fox News, American Sniper, Jesus, and…well…I can’t even

January 26, 2015 by Leave a Comment
Word is making its way around the blogosphere that Fox News is doubling as a theological think tank.

I don’t like picking on Fox News when they talk religion of any sort, including Christianity. It’s too easy and it gets boring.

But I can’t help myself here.

According to the Fox News website, Michael Moore–who really hates this movie, I mean really, really hates it–tweeted about how inconsistent this movie is for Christian faith–hardly a sign of Moore’s Paul-like blinding light conversion, but more a dig.

Fox News took the bait. Correspondent Todd Starnes, after telling us twice that he’s “no theologian,” nevertheless makes a rather hefty theological claim in response to Moore: Jesus would be saying “well done thou good and faithful servant” to snipers plucking off Muslims, thus sending them to hell where they belong.

I think Starnes is mistaking Jesus for…well…not Jesus. Jesus had plenty of chances to wage war on people he did…

A First-Century Copy of the Gospel of Mark?

January 26, 2015   

In the last week or so I’ve had a number of inquiries about news stories of the discovery of a fragment of the Gospel of Mark dating to the first century AD.  Actually, this isn’t a new claim, but instead a rehashing (or belated notice) of a story that initially appeared back in early 2012.  But, thanks to an article more recently in “Live Science” (here) the story has taken on renewed life.  Concerns and critiques have been offered in news outlets as well, this one instance here.  So, I’ll offer some comments in what follows.

First, some background.  The original news derived from a public debate held in Chapel Hill, North Carolina between Dan Wallace and Bart Ehrman, during which Wallace mentioned that he’d been told that a first-century fragment of Mark had been identified.   That generated some excitement and critical comments, such as those from Brice Jones here.

The more recent excitement seems to have come from someone, apparently at “Live Science”, noticin…

Exodus, Exile, and #TrulyHuman Resurrection: Living Beyond Tribalism and Individualism

What do you think?
The beauty of the Bible has as much to do with what it tells us about human nature as it does to do with what it tells us about God. Indeed, the story of salvation only makes sense when we see the various dimensions of the human person and experience with all of its flaws and struggles that Christ has come to redeem. It starts with the most simple and obvious needs and moves to the deepest and most mysterious longings.+ Exodus: The Cry of the Poor and the Oppressed As human beings, we simply cannot flourish apart from certain basic material provisions.  Food, clothing, shelter, a balanced life of work, recreation and sleep are essential. Beyond this, we also crave relational connectivity with others to feel secure and known.  These material needs cannot be separated from our spiritual lives, but they are distinct and usually prerequisite for most people to live at a higher sense of identity and purpose.+ Thus, it seems fitting in retrospect that the most formative…

Becoming Newly, #TrulyHuman: Embodiment is Not Enough (Part 1)

0 Sidenotes
One of the most pressing challenges of discipleship and mission that daily confronts me is articulating in word and practice why and how salvation in Christ is good news in a world where Christianity is increasingly perceived as irrelevant to the things that matter most. I am bombarded with this challenge in different places – like in the relational dynamics of my family, in the pressures and complexities of being a pastor to seasoned church-folk, and in the lost and hurting people I regularly encounter at the coffee shop.+ Addressing this challenge involves re-imaging how salvation gets real in the lives we actually live – in the grittiness and fleshiness of embodied life. If we are affirming that salvation is about becoming more, not less, human, I’m learning that the recovery of embodiment is a crucial move. But I’m also learningit doesn’t stop there.We must follow the implications of the incarnation and resurrection all the way through.+ Read more at http://www.missio…

Beyond Pleated Pants and Skinny Jeans: Bonhoeffer to the Rescue

Scot McKnight, in his recent book Kingdom Conspiracy, rehearses the maddeningly familiar dichotomy between evangelism and social justice cleverly naming the former as those who wear Pleated Pants and the latter as the Skinny Jeans set.I’ve struggled with the dichotomy or tension from the earliest days of my entry into theological study and pastoral work (the early ‘70’s).I guess I received good teaching and had good mentors for I never felt in myself this tension that was writ large over the evangelicalism from which I came.In my day they might have been called the Straight Leggers and the Bell Bottoms or something like that.
Somewhere along the way (late ‘80’s – ‘90’s) the idea that God called his people to care for the needy and feed the hungry and protect the widows and orphans seeped into the evangelical awareness.“Justice” was all the rage for a while – from the conservative to the less conservative end of that spectrum.Yet here in 20-teens we have the Pleated Pants and Skinny Je…

The Trojan Horse of Neoliberalism

By Creston Davis, Founder & Director of the Global Center for Advanced Studies (GCAS)

We’re all familiar with one of the founding stories of western literature about the decade long siege on the city of Troy by the Greeks.  This story is penned in Homor’s Odyssey and later in the Aenied of Virgil and tells the tale of ultimate subterfuge.  The plan was based on the deception of a false gift, the Wooden Horse given to Troy as a Victory Trophy.  The Trojans were immediately taken, and as the Greeks sailed away from their abandoned positions, they celebrated even as they moved Greek troops into their secure city unawares.  Once everyone relaxed and got intoxicated from celebrating, the Greek troops popped out of the horse and took the city down.

When the 1960s revolution directly threatened to take over the modes of production, the capitalist elites teamed up with economic professors (many from the University of Chicago) and devised a plan.  For this plan to work it would take a gen…

.How a Decadent Culture Makes Me Think Like Sorokin

by Robert Benne  1 . 19 . 15The more I am hit by the decadence and vulgarity of American culture, the more I return to the thought of Pitirim A. Sorokin (1889-1968). Now out of favor in spite of his enduring scholarship and his central role in the development of academic sociology, Sorokin was already beginning to fade when I entered graduate school in the late-1950s. His stout anti-communism, critique of loosening sexual mores, and cultural conservatism ran squarely against the academic trends of the time. And it didn’t help that his life story gave him far more credibility than his colleagues to discuss the great ideological debates of the Cold War.
It was an extraordinary career. Born in Russia and steeped in Russian Orthodoxy, Sorokin spent time in jail because of his resistance to the Czar. He joined the February Revolution and became a functionary in the Kerensky regime, but that of course was temporary. After the Bolsheviks took over in October, Sorokin turned to studies …

The Child in the Basement

David BrooksJAN. 12, 2015

Maybe you’re familiar with Ursula Le Guin’s short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” It’s about a sweet and peaceful city with lovely parks and delightful music. The people in the city are genuinely happy. They enjoy their handsome buildings and a “magnificent” farmers’ market.
Le Guin describes a festival day with delicious beer and horse races: “An old woman, small, fat, and laughing, is passing out flowers from a basket, and tall young men wear her flowers in their shining hair. A child of nine or ten sits at the edge of the crowd, alone, playing on a wooden flute.” It is an idyllic, magical place.
But then Le Guin describes one more feature of Omelas. In the basement of one of the buildings, there is a small broom-closet-sized room with a locked door and no windows. A small child is locked inside the room. It looks about 6, but, actually, the child is nearly 10. “It is feebleminded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecil…

The Greatest False Idol Of Modern Christianity


Idolatry is a horrible, dangerous thing.

Sadly, far too many Christians are so very guilty of it.
You can see it in the way they complain on social media, in the way they comment on the news of the day; in the defeatist, alarmist language that they use as to describe the world.
You see it in the way they furrow their brows, and throw-up their hands, and slam their pulpits.
It shows-up in the lazy stereotypes and the religious rhetoric that flows so easily in church lobby coffee chats and extremist blog rants.

It’s as if everything has now become an imminent threat: Muslims, Atheists, Gays, The President, inner city criminals, Hollywood, illegal immigrants, The Government, school hallways.

The world outside the church building is broadly painted as a vile, immoral war zone, with “God’s people” hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned.

Parroting the politicized talk show hosts and reposting the latest terr…

What church planters can learn from Target’s failure in Canada

January 15, 2015
Target has failed in Canada. And I can’t say that I’m surprised. But it’s not because I know much about retail. My notable retail experience includes three years working at Smart Set in Southcentre Mall during high school. I was excellent at folding t-shirts for the 2 for $25 table. Oh, and I worked the music department at Chapters back in the days of music departments with old-fashioned items like CDs. Bless. Nope, a retail giant analyst I am not, but what I do have I offer to you: regular old church experience.
Most of my childhood and teenage years as a neo-charismatic Christian in western Canada can be characterized by an almost identical exercise: a big American name comes to Canada to Reach Canada for Christ™, plant a church, and then in rather short order, heads back over the border, usually while blaming us for the failure.

That sounds a bit bald and harsh, but I don’t mean to be. It’s simply been my experience. So first, let me say this: I’ve seen church plants…

4 Ways the Modern Church Looks Nothing Like the Early Church

ByPreston Sprinkle January 15, 2015 Preston Sprinkle is the vice president of Eternity Bible College’s Boise extension. He’s the author of Charis: God’s Scandalous Grace for Us and blogs at Theology in the Raw.

I often hear Christians say that we should be more like the early church. And I must admit, I’ve been one of those Christians. But if we linger on what this would look, I wonder how many of us would rather stay put in our 21st century churches. After all, first century Christians clung to a set of values that differs quite radically from most Christians today
How We View Other Christians One uncomfortable value trumpeted by the early Christians was their view of the church as a family. The first Christians saw themselves as brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers to everyone who was part of the Christian community.

This is, of course, well known to anyone who reads the New Testament. But we shouldn’t read the church-as-family metaphor through the lens of our modern-day Wester…

Chris Kyle, Andrew Howard Brannan, and the American Legacy of ViolenceJanuary 14, 2015 by 2 Comments Any culture has a difficult tendency to send conflicting messages on an array of issues, and American culture is no different. This fact is especially true when it comes to one of America’s hallmark characteristics: violence.
The use of violence towards others is at the very foundation of the American identity– it’s how we were born as a nation, and how we have thrived as a nation. Since we benefit so greatly from this violence, we have not only culturally justified it but have gone one step further and glorified it as being good, noble, justified, and one of the things that makes us so “great.”
Those who volunteer to sign up to carry out America’s violence are immediately deified as cultural heroes– even within the church of Jesus Christ itself. I often see this immediately upon entering many churches in America, where one can often find bulletin boar…

Was God Urban Meyer’s Inspiration in Running Up The Score?

January 14, 2015 by Leave a Comment

“Is there a bigger hypocrite in college sports than Urban Meyer?” – Mike Ozanian, Forbes
So asks Forbes’ Mike Ozanian the day after the inaugural College Football National Title Game.
Leading 35 to 20 with 1:43 left in the game, Ohio State was set to go for it on fourth and one from inside the Oregon five yard line. Before the snap, two Oregon offensive linemen jumped offsides, giving the Buckeyes a first down and the ballgame. Tradition says you line up in victory formation, take a knee, shake hands, and celebrate. Instead, Urban Meyer and his Ohio State Buckeyes kept running plays, scoring again with 28 seconds left. “I didn’t even think about taking a knee… we play to win,” Meyer said. (ESPN)

The move has some people asking questions. The Washington Post‘s Des Bieler asked, “Should Ohio State Have Taken a Knee at the End of the Title Game?” Oregon Sportswriter, Tim Brown asked, “Did the Buckeyes need to score, or was the call meant to be…

Eschatological Business: Introduction - A Guest Series by Nathan Hitchcock

Christians work toward a future. This is true of humans generally, who go about their business with some sort of telos in mind, possessed by (or searching for) some kind of hope. It is differently true for believers, who live in the light of divine ends. By the Holy Spirit they hope for God’s future in Jesus Christ. They move forward, stretching toward the coming kingdom. When Christians go about their work as welders, as property managers, as actuaries, as network technicians, as mayors, as retail clerks, they do so as end-time laborers.

The present series can be understood as a response to Tom Nelson’s pastoral plea: “If we are going to do God-honoring work, if we are going to be a faithful presence in our workplaces, then we must grasp in a compelling way that our present work fits into the future that awaits us” (Work Matters, 77). The following offers a constructive framework for the members of the Church to understand their work. It pursues the theme of eschatological bus…