Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Arguing Against Evil

"The defiance of the good atheist hurled at an apparently ruthless and idiotic cosmos is really an unconscious homage to something in or behind that cosmos which he recognizes as infinitely valuable and authoritative: for if mercy and justice were really only private whims of his own with no objective and impersonal roots, and if he realized this, he could not go on being indignant.  the fast that he arraigns heaven itself for disregarding them means that at some level of his mind he knows they are enthroned in a higher heaven still."

C.S. Lewis, De Futilitate

Friday, December 06, 2013

An Atheist Talks About Salvation

Luc Ferry is a French, secularist humanist philosopher.  He writes with wonderful clarity, and his book, "A Brief History of Thought" is a kind of survey of Western philosophy.  One of the dynamics of the book that has made it so fun for me is that in one sentence he will express a significant truth with force and conviction, and with the next he will commit an egregious error or support an idea I find obviously false.  This excerpt is an example of the former:

"To reach this point [finding salvation - the theme of the book], the Moderns turned in two main directions. The first - I will not hide the fact that I have always found it faintly ridiculous, but it has acquired such predominance over two centuries that we cannot ignore it - are what we might call the 'religions of earthly salvation', notably scientism, patriotism and communism.  Unable to continue believing in God [one of his convictions of the Modern condition - we can no longer believe in God], the Moderns invented substitute-religions, godless spiritualities or, to be blunt, ideologies which, while usually professing a radical atheism, cling to notions of giving meaning to human existence, or at least justifying why we should die for them."

It is an undeniable reality of human existence - we are idolaters, and if we will not worship the One True God, we will worship any false one.  In the next paragraph Ferry borrows Nietzsche's word, 'idol', to describe these 'religions of earthly salvation'.  To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, when people stop believing in God, the don't believe in nothing, they will believe anything.

And he is right about the roles of these ideologies in the Western world.  Scientism is roughly the belief that all that there is to the world are material things, and the only source of genuine knowledge is the scientific method guided by metaphysical and methodological naturalism.  It has become, ironically, a religion for many.  Patriotism, in Ferry's sense, is the belief that our nation/culture is the pinnacle of achievement and worthy of our lives above all else.  Too many people have actually substituted their faith for their nation instead of using their theology to guide their love of neighbor.  And communism, despite all the utopian wish-dreams still attached to it, is a brutal and bloody master of human culture.  Yet, it promises the world and many are willing to become its servant.

Even a secularist recognizes the human tendency toward worship and idolatry - our need to find salvation.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Colorado Weather Right Now

Our highest high for about a 6 day stretch is projected to be about 12 degrees F.

Ding, Dong - Embryonic Stem Cell Research (should be) Dead

For years I have said that embryonic stem cell research is both deeply unethical and a scientific dead-end.  But the prevailing winds of culture were against me and I was dismissed or simply pooh-pooed.  I didn't know what I was talking about, apparently.  People up on their scientific conventional wisdom were of the mind that embryonic stem cell research was a kind of obvious magical cure for all kinds of horrific diseases (at the time, personified by Superman, Christopher Reeve, and Michael J. Fox).  Embryonic stem cells are undifferentiated human cells that could, theoretically, be coerced into any kind of adult cell and be used to replaced damaged tissue as in the cases of severe spinal injury and Parkinson's.  The promises were through the roof.

The catch, however, was twofold.  First, all the significant trials with induced embryonic stem cells created runaway tumors in their host, and in great quantities were deadly.  Secondly, the only way to harvest embryonic stem cells was to kill (or make use of donated dead) fetuses.  A baby had to die or be killed in order to pursue this highly suspect line of research.  It was an obvious encouragement for the abortion industry.

But the word on the street was that we had to do it, we needed to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into it, and that anyone who opposed it (usually those crazy Republicans and/or conservative Christians) were backwards and anti-science.  The alternative being bandied about was the research behind adult stem cells.  These are already differentiated cells (such as stomach and skin cells) that could be harmlessly harvested and then chemically induced "backwards" into the kind of pluripotency promised by embryonic cells.  But, no matter what the research showed, the scientific community's and pop-culture's money was on embryonic cells.

Very quietly, far away from the selective attention of the press, this story showed up titled, "Miracle of Science: 65 Diseases Treated With Adult Stem Cells, Biotech advances could make destroying human embryos for research a relic of the past".  The main thrust of the article is exactly what some of us have been saying for a long time - adult stem cell research is both ethical and scientifically superior.  Though the application of this research is still in its beginning stages, chemically induced adult stem cells (iPS) have real-life, verified cures to their credit, and no babies were harmed in their making.

Some quotes from the article:

They have learned how to reprogram adult cells so that they can do many things an embryonic cell can do. No human embryos are destroyed in the process. Along the way, embryonic stem cells—just a decade ago hailed as the future of medicine—have largely been bypassed. Some researchers still use them, but for now, the future belongs to adult stem cells and iPS cells, which are adult cells genetically reprogrammed to express specific genes.
Every year for the past 10 years, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded more adult stem cell research compared with embryonic research. For 2012, NIH grants totaled $146.5 million for embryonic stem cell research, but $504 million for adult stem cell research—a difference of $357.5 million. And the belief that adult stem cells are more promising than embryonic stem cells for therapies is now largely mainstream.

And later, the researcher highlighted in the article notes this about the debate in the past:

Hess said that the early 2000s brought fierce public debate over the ethics of destroying human embryos to acquire stem cells. Researchers and advocates for the use of embryonic cells promised that scientists would discover a miracle cure for Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. "There was a lot of magical thinking going on," Hess said.

This "magical thinking" was so bad that Charles Krauthammer, himself confined to a wheelchair, called out both Reeve and Fox for selling false hope to a lot of vulnerable people.

Part of what is so interesting about this to me is that there was a time when people were being coerced into a point of view based on conventional wisdom and emotion, and almost nothing else.  Their voting habits were being scrutinized on the basis of whether they were going to vote "pro-science" and for embryonic stem cell research, or if they were going to side with the troglodytes and be "anti-science."  It was a big, public deal.  It embarrassed a lot of people into a view they did not hold personally.  And it was all false.

You used to hear a lot about embryonic stem cell research.  Will you hear anything about its demise? No.  Why?  The research is a really big deal and really does have all kinds of promise, so why?  In more cases than not, it might be because to report on the truth now will embarrass those who misrepresented it in the past.

Is it possible for the scientific conventional wisdom to be dead wrong?  Of course it is, and most people who consider themselves "scientific" or scientists of one kind or another would agree.  But they agree in principle.  Disagree with one of their currently held talismans, and you better have thick skin.

Does the work of science have built in fail-safes that are supposed to correct for false views and present views as accurate or true based on research and evidence?  Again, theoretically, yes.  But it doesn't always work that way, in fact, I might argue it almost never works that way on the pop-culture level of science.  Either you believe what the force of conventional wisdom believes or you will become the target of unrelenting personal smears.  And it should be noted that when a point of view begins defending itself with the ad hominem argument, its defenders either have not thought through their reasons for belief or there aren't any to be had.

And, finally, I find it provocative that a point of view on this scientific issue 10 years ago which was informed by good Christian theology alone has turned out to be supported by the research.  Could it be that accurately comprehending and articulating orthodox Christian theology is a clearer, long-term guide to truth in life than scientific conventional wisdom?

Well, now it's time for the long knives to come out.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Pastor as Missionary

I am a member of a denomination that built itself through an emphasis on evangelism, especially
overseas/missionary efforts.  As a result, in the 100 years since our founding we have become the world's largest Protestant denomination.  There is a simple reality about us - we send out a lot of missionaries to all kinds of difficult and exotic corners of the earth to spread the gospel.

Since I was a kid I have had the privilege of getting to spend time with some of these extraordinary people.  Now, when I was young and we ate a meal with a missionary to Africa I was admittedly more interested in my French fries than them, but thankfully times have changed.  As a pastor I again have the chance to spend time with them and I have learned to ask probing questions and listen intently to what they have to say about the establishment and life of the Church beyond our American and Western borders.  More often than not, I talk with Americans and Westerners who have had their vision of the church radically changed (maybe more properly "broadened") by their non-Western experience and their commitment to other cultures.  They see the world and the church differently than most of us Westerners do, and I think the differences are significant.  The church is growing "over there" (by leaps and bounds, actually), and it is languishing here.  The church is thriving through all forms of persecution "over there" and we struggle mightily with each change in our political winds.

What do they know that we don't pay attention to? How does the church get built and grow in places hostile to the message and lifestyle of the gospel?  I am interested.  And I think I see a few answers coming from their work, both explicitly and implicitly, that the American Pastor needs to learn.

Whether you like it or not the cultural landscape underneath the American church's feet is changing radically.  Our culture is becoming - some would argue has become - more post-Christian than it has been in a very long time.  As a result I think we have a lot to learn from those who faithfully and fruitfully proclaim the gospel around the globe.  The role of American pastor looks more and more like the role of missionary.

One way to get a fish to recognize the water it has been swimming in is to take it out of the tank.  Missionaries from the West to other parts of the globe have the privilege of that experience being thrust upon them.  American pastors born and raised in the American culture now have the responsibility of self-imposing this culture shock.  We are accustomed to a certain set of broad values, to a way of talking about people and things that pervades the way we view them, a way of talking about the value of other cultures that tints our perspective, and to ways of presenting the gospel that may have more to do with a diminishing cultural milieu than we recognize.  If things are changing around us, and I believe we would be naive to think they are not, we must come to terms with two things: our foundational identity formed by Christ alone, and the new shapes and forms of culture around us.

The Reestablishment of Church as Culture
The conversation about the relationship between Church and culture is vast, complicated, fascinating, and necessary.  But my simple addition to the current conversation is that pastors must begin to see church life, not as an extension of the culture around them, but as an alternative culture.  The church is a culture-making institution in this world guided by Christ that cannot isolate itself or leave culture to secular elitists.  This vision of the role of church and pastor in culture is necessary for our impact in our developing post-Christian world, but it cannot be spelled out in great detail by me for you.  You, pastor must learn to do the serious and probably hard work of getting to know the city and community around you in order to become the kind of influence Christ can empower you to be.

Be it implicitly or explicitly, the people in our pews have learned to take their cultural cues from political debates, their favorite form of media, their technological entrapment, television and entertainment.  And they take some of their spiritual cues from the cultural cubicle that is their church.  Their attendance is spotty and the influence we have on them reflects their unconscious priorities.  It will take a radical new vision of the church to turn things around, and it must begin with the pastor pulling themselves out of their theological stupors.

Lifetime Commitment
I believe the age of the short-term pastor is finished.  At least is should be.  We can no longer have the impact we need to if we hop from congregation to congregation every few years looking for that place that "fits" us just right, recognizes our leadership potential, pays us what we are worth, and is larger than the last place we served.  Our culture needs no more spiritual carpetbaggers.  It needs long-term pastors who are willing to sink roots, make friends, build families, suffer losses, endure hardships, celebrate joys, and die well among the same group of people.  It is obvious that churches need pastors, it needs to become obvious to us that communities need pastors.

In my experience with overseas missionaries, those with the greatest impact have taken the time to get trained, learn the culture, and plan on spending as much time on the field as they can.  In years past they simply "packed their coffins."  They literally left for the field with their belongings packed in their coffins.  They had every intention of staying there until God called them home.  Contrast that with what is often a self-obsessed evangelical celebrity pastor culture and then wonder aloud about the progress of the church "over there" as compared to here.

I Belong To A Denomination...On Purpose

Every year about this time I, along with all my fellow Assembly of God ministers, am asked to renew my credentials.  This means I do a few things - I update personal information, pay my annual dues, and reaffirm my agreement with our Doctrinal Statement.  I have done this for years (15 to be exact), but this time it gave me a reason to reflect on a couple of things.

I pay to be a part of a denomination - to be precise, we are a "cooperative fellowship."  When I first interviewed to receive my credentials I was asked what the local denominational authorities existed to help me with.  I had no idea.  But 15 years later I have grown to appreciate what the network of pastors, ministers and missionaries means to my vocation.  In addition, I have seen the benefit of accountability and restoration in the lives of many pastors who would not otherwise have it if they were on their own.  Many younger ministers begrudge their annual dues, but I have grown to appreciate what they represent and facilitate.

In broader terms, there is benefit in belonging to a specified network of relatively like-minded ministers.  It is true that we all belong to the Church universal, but if that is the only group of church leaders we belong to we will belong to nobody when push comes to shove.  We are human and we need support, friendship and fellowship on incarnational, not theoretical, levels.

But with denominational specificity comes doctrinal specificity.  And here, there arise a handful of issues.  Through the years I have wrestled with a few things: the culture of my denomination as opposed to its theology, doctrinal specifics my denomination has traditionally regarded as central that I do not, and a few specific areas of potential disagreement with the statement itself.

As to the culture of the Assemblies of God, there is a broad spectrum of church expression given the missional and entrepreneurial DNA of our denomination.  But that does not mean that there have not been times in my ministry life when leadership has strongly implied that if I am not doing things their way I am doing them wrong.  But as a wise leader once told me, "The beauty of the AG is that I can listen to those things and then go home and do church the way God built me to do church."  This piece of advice kept me from leaving more than once while I listened to cultural pressures from pastors different from myself.

As for doctrinal disagreements, my study and convictions have aligned me with our Statement of Fundamental Truths, though my sense of what is primary is a little different than our traditional formulations.  This does not keep me from being a part of the AG.  What it does is provide an encouragement to be a part of the theological growth of the movement.  If I agree broadly and feel there are areas of growth in specifics, why not be a part of the movement and help build it from within?  I don't know of a reason not to.

I went ahead and renewed again this year, and I think it will be a good thing.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Leaving, Coming Back - A Tale of Church Attendance

I am constantly thinking and praying about the place of church in our contemporary mosaic of American culture.  There are obvious issues and problems, and very few 'solutions' just as obvious.  Nonetheless, God has instituted his church as a glorious thing that survives both tyrannies and disgruntled youth.

Thus, this posting at Her.Menutics caught my eye.  The article, "Replacing SundayMornings," is a taste of the book by the same author, "When We Were On Fire."  It tells of how the author, her circle of friends, and countless other millennials, left the churches of their youth and found temporary replacements in everything from fitness clubs to bars.  Though most of the post is about what they replaced Sundays with, the end of the story is that they have returned to the church and all of its imperfections.

Her description of leaving was interesting to me, for it resonates with why so many have told me they are uncomfortable or dissatisfied with church.  They felt they didn't fit in, and found acceptance in other communities.  Churches were clunky and full of pop-psychology and other circles of people offered tastes of triumph, so they float from one option to another on Sundays.  Church leaving millennials appear to replace church-hopping with community-hopping.

I am sure the author is finding meaning and direction back in the church, but a couple of thoughts occur to me about what is going on when a young person leaves church and hops around looking for meaning in all the other places.

Churches as they are largely envisioned in the American evangelical culture not only cater to consumers, but create them.  So it is not surprising that young people raised on modern advertising and emotionalistic worship grow dissatisfied quickly - not just with church but with every other replacement they try.  So, consumers leave the church, consume all kinds of other shallow replacements, and some of them return to church with a tempered, if not chastised, consumerism.

The author has returned to church but her description of that move in the post is short and, frankly, a little disheartening.   It is quite possible the book teases out her return in more detail and with more conviction, but she still sounds a little unimpressed that church is the right place for her to be.  Her descriptions of 5Ks, book clubs, and bars were more appealing than her description of church.  So, I have a simple suggestion to both churches and returning millennials.

Don't settle for simplistic, consumeristic, pop-psychology driven churches.  They are places that typically play in the shallows of the oceans of possibility with the presence and power of God.  It is quite possible that the American evangelical church has created its own problems with the loss of young people, and for the life of me I don't understand why we would continue to believe those same models will fix the problems they created.

The body of Christ made visible in the gathering of his church can be a wonderful and beautiful thing.  It is greater than all the other options.  It is evidence of a kingdom more glorious and active than any other at work in our world today.  I hope we can all come to a perspective that begins with God and his glory rather than our wants and needs and begin to do church as a result.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Church - it is Different Than...

In what ways is the Church different from other organizations?

For a few weeks now my mind has been caught up in the issue of the church - the body of Christ here on earth.  With all of its manifest problems, dysfunctions, and frustrations, is it an utterly unique and uniquely empowered institution that has survived centuries of abuse and neglect.  God has chosen to create the church, both universal and local, to be the conduit for his will and work here on earth.  The church manifests God's kingdom now before it comes in its fullness on the day of the Lord.

So, what makes the church an utterly unique institution?  Here are just a few thoughts to prime the pump of your own reflections.  We are starting a longer and in-depth study of the Church on our Sunday nights at LHC beginning this weekend (Sunday, September 29th, 2013, 6:00pm) and you are welcome to come or listen in on the audio once each week is posted.

The Gospel of Christ
While there are a lot of organization that come alongside the church (parachurch organizations) to help proclaim the gospel, it is the church that exists as the locus in a community where the gospel in total is preached and lived.  Beyond these organizations, however, there are none which are dedicated to the good news that Jesus Christ is God in flesh, that he lived, died, and rose again to secure salvation for "whosoever will."  As useful and helpful as other institutions can be within a society, none of them teach the gospel the church is tasked to teach.

Our Doctrine
As with the proclamation of the gospel, there are many organizations dedicated to teaching and propagating Christian doctrine, but none of them in the ways that belong to the church, especially the local church.  Ideally, good doctrine is preached at church.  Then, a group of people who have dedicated themselves to these truths and to each other go and live out their daily lives.  Eventually it will become clear to them all that there are significant connections between the two and they will begin to encourage each other and hold each other accountable for the living of their beliefs.  Coming together on a regular basis becomes the training ground for the connection between what Christians believe and what they do.

Baptism and the Lord's Supper
Where else on earth are these two ordinances of the church practiced - especially when we understand them as acts which portray central elements of the gospel of Jesus Christ?

A Moral Mooring
My wife recently had a conversation with an old friend from another church background.  Her friend noted that her views about sexuality (and other things) had "changed with the times" and that she was comfortable at her current church because her pastor "was real" and easy to listen to.  Knowing a few of the details behind the conversation, it was easy to draw a direct line between how easy her church was to attend with how easily her moral views had changed with the cultural pressures around her.

A local assembly of people who call themselves a church and yet is willing to "change with the times" on central and important moral issues places a question mark at the end of their self-designation as a church.  A church is rooted in not just the doctrine once and for all delivered to the saints, but to a particular moral vision of humanity and creation founded on the unchanging nature of the God.


Our moral and doctrinal foundations lead us to recognize the need for discipline within the church.  Deciding what we believe about God or how we behave with each other is not up to us as individuals - a contemporary heresy if ever there was one.  And since the church teaches and lives its doctrine and beliefs, it is incumbent upon us to exercise discipline and restoration where possible.  Not every belief about God is right, not every behavior between people is good.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Dangerous Call Of Pastor And What To Do About It

Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway 2012). 227 pages.

Paul Tripp is convinced there is a systemic problem with the pastoral culture.  It may have its roots in the seminary culture and a system of education that turns the faith into something simply academic, it may have other roots in the way pastors view and treat themselves as believers who are somehow set apart from the normal course of discipleship that they preach to others, and it may have roots in church culture where pastors are not treated and handled as humans who need church community and the ministry of the gospel of grace.  In any event Paul Tripp unpacks what has gone wrong and where we find evidence of these malfunctions in how pastors live, minister, and are viewed by the church culture.

The book is broken into three sections: Examining Pastoral Culture, The Danger of Losing Your Awe, and The Danger of Arrival.  In the first the author builds a case that the dysfunctions he has seen through the years in pastoral ministry are not localized, but common among pastors, and possibly more ubiquitous than we would want to know.  This section is also deeply concerned with how we have put ourselves in this situation.  In the second he begins to trace a set of solutions through the need for ministers to maintain a deep and sincere sense of the greatness of God.  We are not the all-in-all that God uses to minister the gospel.  That would be him.  In the third section he addresses the problem of pastors losing sight of who they are as sinners in need of grace under the rule and goodness of God.  Our positions often lend themselves to heady successes or life-destroying failures.  In each and every case, the pastor is a sinner saved by grace and in need of pastoral direction themselves.

I found many of Tripp's ideas and prescriptions helpful, and the kinds of things I hope I will come back to over the years of ministry God may grant me.  I also saw myself and pastor friends in the sad stories he relates detailing where ministry can take its toll in life, family, and devotion.  Beyond a simple exposition of what has gone wrong, Tripp's pastoral heart is exposed as he reveals things about his own short-comings, and spends a great deal of time offering solutions to the problems.

Pastors are not above being ministered to by the gospel they preach.  They are not necessarily recipients of the truths they try to impart just because they work on it from week to week and deliver successful sermons.  They are people who need to sit under their own preaching, have circles of people they trust who can do the hard work of pastoring them, and they need the right kind of open community of friends that a congregation provides.  That last thought struck me as especially significant.  We have created an atmosphere between pastors and churches where there is a manufactured disconnect between the two, which easily leads to short-term ministries and unrealistic expectations.  Maybe a bumper sticker is in order, "Pastors are people, too."

This would be a great addition to the pastor's shelf to be pulled out in times of personal burn-out or distress, or in a season where a pastor needs to remind themselves of what makes for a healthy and long-term life of ministry.  It would be helpful for boards and elders to read.  In it they will find an honest exposure of a pastor's heart and life and find ways to be a significant support to them, and in turn, to the congregation they serve.

If you found this review helpful, please say so on Amazon.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Vision of God Changing

"I don't expect less of him, I just assume less."

My friend has a very bright, analytical mind.  He grew up in a good Christian home, his father was a pastor in a small town for many long years before he passed away, and my friend's faith is strong and deeply rooted.  But if you were to talk with him seriously about his faith he would have posed questions that cause most Christians, especially those raised in evangelical homes, to squirm a bit.  "If the Bible says we pray over the sick and they will be healed, why aren't they?"  "What about those untold numbers of people who have died because of evil in the world, especially if they have never had the chance to respond to the Gospel?"  He was never punchy or pushy, but he was always honest about these kinds of questions.

For the last year or more he has suffered a great deal.  His body has not done well.  Some might even call his condition a kind of long-term death sentence.  But he was strong and healthy when he got sick, so what has been taken away from him was room his body had to spare.  There is no denying, however, that it has taken its toll.

We had not met for lunch in a long time so it was good to be able to get together and talk over how things have gone over the last few months.  The last time we talked was not long after the diagnosis and there were still questions to be answered and programs of treatment to be prescribed.  Now, on the other side of a year, things were different.  What was once an unknown has now become a murky burden.  It seems the more complex the diagnosis, the harder it is to settle in on a single, obvious means of treatment.  What were once hopeful medical prescriptions have become semi-successful, body-draining events.

Suffering is changing the way he understands God and life under God. But that is a good thing.  His mind is still sharp and searching, but this time he sat across from me and answered the question about how things have gone between him and God over the last several months by replying, "I don't expect less of him, I just assume less."  I think this statement reveals a deep and helpful shift toward trust in God that we all need to hear.

Instead of simply assuming that God will act in certain ways because we think he ought to, can we be ready to take what life and God give and remain confident in him?  Must we have all our questions answered to our personal satisfaction before we give God the privilege of our belief in his existence and goodness?  What does God have to do for you (that you find acceptable or beneficial) before you will let him off the hook?  And if God is in our personal defendant's chair waiting for the jury to come in, then who exactly is the god we worship?

Hundreds of years ago three young men were persecuted in a pagan land for their belief in the God of Abraham.  Their unswerving devotion to him brought them to the hearth of a fire built to burn people alive and they were asked to change their minds.  They answered that God was powerful enough to save them from the fire, but if he chose not to do it, they knew he was God anyway and they would not recant.  Here is a belief in the reality of the existence and goodness of God that has nothing to do with what we get from him or how he meets our personal, felt needs.  It is a belief that is grounded in reality - in truth itself.  God exists, he is good, he deserves my worship, and he has made provision for his children in this life and in the one to come.  So then, why would I change my mind on the edge of the fire?

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Pastor and Trauma - Seriously?

I help run an organization that works closely with girls rescued from human trafficking.  We are trying to do the hard work of providing long-term solutions for them including ministry and spiritual support.  In this world of working with girls 'in the system' and who come to us with a lot of complicated and life-altering issues, there is a lot of counseling and therapy for everyone involved.  Our training, for instance, has tried to prepare our workers for the realities of working with minors with all kinds of baggage by providing crisis management techniques, intervention rules, and tools for self-care.

But I have also learned that we can neither neglect nor under-emphasize the role of pastor in the lives of our girls and our workers.  With all the work we have done with the state, child placement agencies, and county human services, it is easy to rely too heavily on the techniques provided for us that have nothing to do with the state of their souls.  I do not want to ignore the importance of counseling either, but we live in a social atmosphere that tends to neglect the role of spiritual care in favor of the more scientifically driven therapeutic care.  After all, do we really know what a pastor does in a situation that involves serious trauma, the kind of trauma most would think needs medication?

An appointed counselor is a periodic support and dispenser of self-regulation advice (among many other things).  Very often they are a tremendous and practical help with extraordinary conditions and situations where most of us simply do not have the experience or the tools to deal with people and emotions well.  We ought not to ignore what that kind of expertise and input can do for people.

But where is the pastor?  Where do we think spiritual support fits into some of the most complicated and long-term problems of life?  I would argue that we rank that kind of support somewhere between a good bowl of ice cream and a long nap.  We might say - literally say with our mouths - that we believe spiritual wisdom and suppo
rt to be very important, but where do we spend our time and our money?  Probably, therapist first, ice cream second, pastor third.

If, however, the Christian is serious about how their worldview orders reality they need to learn to pay more attention to the states of their souls.  After all, we are embodied souls, eternal spirits who will one day be reunited with a resurrected body.  We are everlasting beings whose souls have the opportunity to be renewed day by day while our earthly bodies decay.  A soul is a terrible thing to ignore, but we do it all the time.  To make a horrible turn of phrase, we are practical soul-neglectors.  We believe they exist, but we act as if they do not.

Is good counseling helpful in traumatic and complicated situations? Of course it can be.  Will you thrive in the long-run as a follower of Jesus Christ if you use that as a substitute for the care of your soul? I really don't think so.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Pastors and the Centrality of The Gospel

Jared C. Wilson. The Pastor's Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry. (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway 2013). 187 pages.

I really do believe the pastoral vocation is at a crisis moment. For too long we have been unable to biblically and faithfully answer the question, "Who is a pastor, anyway?" and so we have succumbed to models of leadership more suited to ice cream stand franchising than gospel proclamation.  Beginning with his own call to the ministry as a young age, and referencing his own evolution as a pastor, Jared Wilson does a wonderful job of dealing with the one thing necessary for the pastor's job - Christ and him crucified.

Jared Wilson is now all about the gospel though it wasn't always that way.  He notes that for a long time he was subject to the seeker sensitive model's way of  crafting a sermon and building a church.  His reflection on those years reveals that he was simply a moralist using Scripture to support his own wisdom.  But so it is, he argues, with any form of pastoring or preaching that does not begin and end with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In two parts of the book he takes 1 Peter 5:1-11 and then the five Solas of the Reformation to talk about the vocation of pastor and the centrality of the gospel.  He writes with a great deal of clarity and unblinking honesty.  He warns pastors against being "lily-livered" more than once, gets after the leadership cult in evangelicalism (an insidious temptation!), speaks bravely about the temptation to power, and presses the pastor to find their right place under Christ and the gospel.  And throughout it all he encourages ministers to let the truth and power of the gospel permeate their entire ministry, not just their preaching.  Throw out the "how-to" models and "7 Easy Steps" in favor of the never-changing good news of Jesus Christ.

I have a great appreciation for a book like this because it is both accurate and timely.  It begins with God's Word and then builds a genuinely useful model of pastoral work.  Pastors would do well to give the ideas in this book a long hard look and see where they may need to alter their course in the direction of the gospel.

If this review was helpful, say so on Amazon.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Miley Cyrus and Her Soul

In case you missed it, Miley Cyrus recently acted like an over-sexed teen on national TV.  It has been
interesting to watch people on both the 'left' and the 'right' react in shock and disapproval.  It isn't often some of these people agree on cultural issues.  So, putting aside the fact that she is not the first and will not be the last, and the fact that the African-American hip-hop culture lives and breathes on hyper-sexuality and exploitation, and that people rarely react to these displays relative to how often they are public, I want to think through a couple of reactions to her performance.

First of all, many people have responded with some version of, "If you don't like it, turn the channel."  This is a very politic answer.  It relies on the notion that we live in a pluralistic culture in which plenty of people do things that we disagree with, some things we disagree with strongly, but which we must learn to live with.  I don't like the fact that the VMA are more about debasing women and teens than it is about music, but I lack the social power to force my opinion upon MTV and we are generally happy that a single individual or a single group of people lack that power.

Alongside that reaction has been an either explicit or implicit acceptance of her behavior as a result of the image of her mother in the audience approving of what she had just watched her daughter do.  This reaction relies heavily upon the knee-jerk relativism of our society that teaches us that if someone approves of a behavior (especially someone as close to an individual as a parent), then we are not in a position to disagree with it.  Yet, even among hard-core relativists, moral judgments refuse to be so pliable.  An individual may make the argument that hyper-sexual behavior in music is fine because they are inured to that behavior, and yet the same person is likely to eviscerate someone who takes a strong stand against abortion or for traditional marriage.  In the end, the retreat to relativism here is exactly what it always and everywhere is - a "get out of moral reasoning FREE" card. 

What I see is a screaming soul.  And no, I don't mean that is what I think of her singing ability.  I see a soul so far from her God that she, and the crowd that influences her, believes that what she did was good for her and those around her.  In no mature, rational sense is this the case, yet she seems to be sure of it and there are plenty around her ready to buttress that belief.  What she did was not some form of respectable free-expression or artistic display.  It was not deep.  It was not meaningful.  It was transient trash performed by an eternal soul who does not know how low she has sunk.  To paraphrase C.S. Lewis and his essay, "The Weight of Glory," she was playing with mud pies when the glories of heaven are being offered to her.

Without the reality of our Creator God alive within our lives and our culture, we are subjected to semi-serious conversations about whether what she did was appropriate or even profound.  Yet, when the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ breaks in on that insanity, we see things differently.  We watch a soul writhe, not in simulated sexual pleasure, but in the spiritual agony of a drifting and anchorless soul.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Clear, Rigorous Thinking in a Murky Public Debate

Like most people my age, my public school science education took the Darwinian story for granted and was
peppered with bumper sticker clich├ęs to help me understand how true the system was.  I was never really enamored by the whole thing because one of Darwin's basic principles contradicted one of the basic principles of reality that I accepted, but many around me took it all in as if it had already been proven true - by science.

Since then, it has fascinated me to watch as the public debate surrounding the Darwinian theory has transformed into something more sociological and political than scientific.  What claims to be a position buttressed by the current holy-grail of knowledge, science, is in fact largely supported by the same bumper stickers I was given over twenty years ago, a dash of political coercion, and a heap of scorn and sarcasm.   To listen to Darwin's defenders in the public square, you will come away with the distinct sense that you must believe their story or suffer the wrath of public scorn.  If you are 'one of us,' you will believe.

So, given the current atmosphere that we Darwin skeptics put up with, it is exciting and encouraging to find a work that is well-researched, well-documented, intensely aware of the latest advances in the relevant sciences, charitable to the opposing points of view, and shockingly enough, non-combative.  Dr. Stephen Meyer's book, Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and The Case for Intelligent Design, is a well-argued book that handles the science and arguments behind everything from the fossil record, to information theory, to a flurry of Neo-Darwinian proposals, cellular biology, protein synthesis, and body plan engineering.  But it is more than an argument critical of the adequacy of Darwinian and materialistic proposals, it is a positive case for considering the science of Intelligent Design as a vera causa for the sudden origins of animal body types.

Dr. Meyer uses the geologically sudden appearance of hundreds of body plans in the Cambrian Explosion as the groundwork for his arguments and in a way, the book is a chronological assessment of Darwinian explanations.  Beginning with Darwin and his proposals about the fossil record and the power of natural selection as a mechanism, Dr. Meyer moves forward in time through several (if not all) major versions of the materialistic, macro-evolutionary story.  At each step in his book, I found the bumper stickers I have heard for years dealt with in relationship to the most current science.  For instance, in Darwin's day the fossil record was very much up for grabs, so it could have been easy to believe that his thousands of transitional body plans were still underground simply waiting discovery.  Modern research in statistical paleontology, however, shows that we are unlikely to find many other major body plans in the record.  (And the missing links are still, largely, missing.)  I had also been told that the multitude of soft body plans early in the Darwinian Tree of Life would never be found because soft bodied animals did not fossilize, thus they could be postulated but never discredited.  But now I know that paleontologists who work with fossilized sponge embryos would disagree.

 Some of the most incredible research he deals with concerns the connection between the engineering of new body plans and the probabilities of random protein synthesis, epigenetics, and embryology.  Each new body plan function requires new genetic, molecular, and epigenetic information that was not present before.  If the materialistic account is accurate that means an untold number of non-lethal, random mutations on several levels must occur simultaneously to change, say, one component of an eye in a beneficial direction.  Current research simply is not in favor of the standard story.  And on it goes.

Then, having worked through the major and the modern materialistic models, Dr. Meyer develops a case for considering Intelligent Design as the better alternative.  Here, as much as anywhere else in his book, his argument dovetails with his other major work, Signature in the Cell, and compounds an already compelling case.  If an individual is willing to look outside the a priori and ad hoc requirement that science must be metaphysically naturalistic, they can find themselves considering compelling arguments that cohere with the evidence compiled in the rest of the book.

If Dr. Meyer is successful, his argument may be summed up this way:

"In other words, standard materialistic evolutionary theories have failed to identify an adequate mechanism or cause for precisely those attributes of living forms that we know from experience only intelligence - conscious rational activity - is capable of producing. This suggests, in accord with the method of historical scientific reasoning...the possibility of making a strong historical inference to intelligent design as the best explanation for the origin of these attributes." (pg. 358)

In addition to the content of the argument, a couple of other points are worth making.  The book is wonderfully written and edited.  It is easy to read, especially given its often technical subject matter, while never shying away from strenuous details.  And it is wonderfully illustrated.  I often find illustrations distracting from the content of a book, but here they are both a pleasure and a helpful supplement to the content.

Secondly, the reaction from this book's detractors generally serves as evidence for the under-developed form of engagement Darwin's supporters have with arguments critical of their views.  Dr. Meyer has no problem with views different than his.  He is able to disagree from an informed and reasoned stance, and if I am to take another point of view as seriously as I take his, I am looking for the same kind of intellectual honesty I find modeled in his book.

Darwin's Doubt may really be what some have claimed it to be - a major step forward in our understanding of our past and our origins.

[If you think my review is helpful, visit it at Amazon and say so.]

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Pastor's Post Sermon Prayer

A Pastor's Post Sermon Prayer

Lord, forgive me for any word forgotten,
For any word unfitly spoken.
Now, get me out of the way
And do what only You can do
In the lives of your people.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Recover Tradition, Recover Influence

My conviction that churches and pastors are healthy counter-cultural influences grows deeper with every passing day.  The more things change around (or even within) the church, the more our convictions and practices rooted in the faith once and for all delivered to the saints matters.  It is simply more true now of pastors and churches than it has been in a long time - we are culture makers.

At First Things, Dominc Verner reflects on this kind of imperative through the helpful lens of early catholic and Catholic influences.  These are men and women who shaped the ecclesiastical culture and disposition toward the outside world that was significantly un-Christian.  There are lessons to be learned here.  One influence he discusses is that of Dominic:

But the revitalization of our tradition must also be Dominican. Dominic graced the world with his love of Truth and his unshakeable faith in its power to save. His friars devoted, and continue to devote, themselves to study, digging their roots deep down into the soil of sacred mysteries. Firmly planted in the tradition, intellects honed through dialectical disputation and sanctified by contemplative prayer, the Dominican is at home in every public square, pulpit, and classroom. Even far from his priory, the preaching friar walks on native soil, confidently exploring the dark caverns of error, inviting lost wayfarers to come home to God’s truth.

Our stance towards the secular world must be Dominican for the simple fact that charity compels us to share the truth. Yes, we must first be steeped in our own tradition, fortified with sacred scripture, contemplative prayer, theological wisdom, and our perennial philosophy, but then, out of charity, desirous of the salvation of souls, we must boldly venture out into the wilderness of rival traditions and speak the word that saves.

The influential pastor will now be someone who recovers this kind of tradition.  Gone are the days of the fly-by-night televangelist who commands the loyalty of millions and reaches significant numbers of American/Pagan converts at the same time.  We must dig deeper.  We must study harder.  We must do the nitty-gritty work of laying our theology over the canvas of everyday life and weaving the beautiful tapestry of the Kingdom of God.  We must live with our congregations for longer periods of time than are typical for the average evangelical pastor.  We must find our routes into the cultures and communities around us. We can no longer get away with half-hearted and shoddy work.  We must become (again?) the moral and intellectual leaders of our communities.

We cannot become deceived by the prevailing cultural idea that love is tolerance of other religious and moral views, and thus become weak or afraid in our proclamation of the Gospel.  Christian love makes reality as clear as it can wherever it can.  And we believe that Christ is reality and the Kingdom of God is actually present and at work.

That's all.

This sounds expansive and nearly unattainable because it probably is for most of us, especially in its complete application.  But the Christian leaders who made the most impact in their non-Christian and pagan-saturated worlds were the pastor/theologians to aimed in this direction and worked at it with all their might (like Dominic).

It is becoming easier and easier for the church to be different from the world around it - just be the church and believe what the church has always believed.  It is good for our congregations to do so, and it is good for the world, despite their protestations to the contrary.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pastors as Important Things

"Who is to bring the knowledge that will answer the great life questions that perplex humanity? Who is to teach the world - the "nations," people of all kinds - the knowledge that belongs to Christ and his people? In any subject matter the responsibility to teach falls upon those who have the corresponding knowledge. With respect to Christian knowledge, the primary responsibility to teach  falls upon those who self-identify as spokespeople for Christ and who perhaps have some leadership position or role in Christian organizations. I shall use the word "pastors" for such people, but the word is here to be taken very broadly; it refers not just to those who hold a position with that title - though it is especially for them." (pg. 193)

Pastors need to have their work dignified, both from without and within.  Very few people can adequately define and describe the role of a pastor in a community or a congregation without succumbing to simplifications, and few outside the church walls even understand what a pastor "does."  As a result of these realities (and many other things), pastors have an "undignified" profession in the eyes of many, and in some cases, in their own eyes.  But in the passage cited above Willard pours some of the most important activity possible into the vessel of "pastor" and describes them with the role of teaching the nations the knowledge of Christ that answers the most difficult realities of life.

Pastor, you are handling the nuclear energy of the human soul when you claim to stand in for Christ and His Word.  What you proclaim is no less than the ideas and knowledge given by God to handle the human life.  You are not the world's "fix-it" people, or fill-in messiahs, or gap-fillers for the rest of our culture's self-help schemes.  You are handlers of the knowledge of the Creator of all things, especially the human soul.

Are you up for that task?  Is this an accurate description of who you pray you will be when you stand behind a pulpit or visit someone in a coffee shop?  Have you unwittingly succumbed to the low expectations of a culture that seems to know only the healing powers of medical science or pop-psychology?  Do you know where you fit in?

Just In Case It Wasn't Clear, "Pro-Life" Means...

I saw this link posted to Facebook in a couple of places, so I followed it to see what the authors meant by 'pro-life' and hear what they had to say.  I clicked the link expecting to find an article on the old moral category confusion of abortion and capital punishment.  What I found was far less thoughtful.

Apparently the pro-life movement is a lie.  Their reasoning is curious in that they list absolutely no pro-life organizations and deliberately confuse what it means to be pro-life.  I would like to respond in three ways: first, I will accept their implicit premise and show them to be wrong, and second, I will deny their transparent attempt to redefine 'pro-life'.  And finally I want to deny a shocking association they make.

In the short post, the two Rabbis complain that if a person is to be truly pro-life, they will engage with the poor, hungry, and the needy.  They list a handful of organizations that appear to work with inner city youth, trying to better their circumstances.  The not-so-subtle jab is that people who traditionally call themselves pro-life don't do this, and they would only be genuinely pro-life if they did.

In short, they have no idea what they are talking about.  The inner cities of our nation and the world are filled with conservative 'pro-lifers' who do a lot of difficult and thankless work with the hardest cases imaginable.  To list them would be an embarrassment to the post's authors.  So, why didn't they know about these pro-lifers (who are conservative in their politics, and in many cases, Christian)?  It has been my observation that the deeper into Progressive/Liberal circles people are, the less informed they are about the non-Progressive world.  It is a strong tendency in the political and social left to act as if they are the only ones worth reading, listening to, and paying attention to.  As a result, they unwittingly but inevitably become low-information commentators on culture.  (This dynamic can be true of every social tribe, but in our current milieu it is especially true of them.)

Secondly, their implicit premise is that ‘pro-life’ is defined as something like, “those who help the needy and poor, especially the young.”  I do not see anything in their post that even hints at helping the weakest and most vulnerable among us - the unborn.  But this is a time-worn trick - overcome your interlocutor by misrepresenting and redefining her position in such a way that you can easily knock it down.  It is called the Straw Man Fallacy and is one of the most juvenile tricks in the book. The pro-life position begins with defending life in the womb, and anyone even remotely aware of the philosophical, cultural, and scientific debates over abortion would understand this to be the rightful and commonsensical understanding of the term.  To utterly ignore it is just silly.

And finally, they assert that pro-lifers ought to support Planned Parenthood.  If their assertion includes the belief that pro-lifers ought to support an organization that performs 300,000 abortions a year, then they have committed one of the most transparent contradictions possible.  If they are unaware that Planned Parenthood performs that many abortions a year, then they might need to either do their homework or simply observe the facts and change their minds.

In any event, the pro-life movement is alive and well, no matter what her detractors say.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Truth Appropriated

Some of the most valuable lessons I have learned as a Christian I have learned as a matter of process.  To be sure I was handed truths, the truths handed down from saint to saint about the nature of my faith, but those have made their way deeper into my heart and mind because of the journey.  I have struggled with and against people and ideas within and outside Christendom, and I believe my faith to be stronger as a result.  I have (hopefully, to be sure) gone from conviction and affirmation to genuine knowledge.

In his unashamed work, Conscience and Its Enemies, the wonderful thinker, Robert P. George, makes the case that truth is the kind of thing that must be worked for  - it must be attained.  In contrast to the prevailing idea that truth is a matter of personal passions or political and cultural power, truth is beyond all of that and cannot simply be something we look within to find.  There is value in argument and the struggle for true beliefs that simply does not come if we are driven by our passions or conventional wisdom.

He says, "Although some have depicted freedom and truth as antithetical, in reality they are mutually supportive and, indeed, dependent on each other" (pg. 39).  We are not free if we are unshackled from some notion of truth that we all must or can attain; we are not free if truth is a free-for-all.  On the contrary, freedom (in any robust sense of freedom for the human soul) requires an objective truth.  If truth is outside our ability to cajole or manufacture, then we must strive, learn, and grow.  His point about the oppression of relativism is made in the ubiquitous examples of the suppression of speech and the honest seeking after truth by those who are self-appointed guardians of political correctness, campus speech codes, or conventional wisdom.

But the point I find valuable is the one that resonates with my experience - you will be better off if you attain your knowledge, not just feel it.  "The stronger and deeper reason [for allowing error] is that freedom is the condition of our fuller appropriation of the truth.  I use the term appropriation because knowledge and truth have their value for human beings precisely as fulfillment of capacities for understanding and judgment....Knowledge that elevates and enriches - knowledge that liberates the human spirit - cannot be merely notional. It must be appropriated" (pg. 40).

He is right.  This is the only understanding of truth that develops the virtues in the human soul, and gets us out from under the tyranny to self.  The Christian faith has always seen it this way.  We know God, and we know Him truly.  But we strive to know him and his creation more and more because with each step we draw nearer to the One who created us, and we become more like the creatures we were made to be.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Asserting My Religious View On Abortion

Because the issue of life in the womb is so clear-cut for me, I am intrigued by thoughtful defenses of abortion rights.  More often than not abortion supporters rely on emotion and, frankly, out-shouting their opponents, so I am drawn to ideas that could possibly be a thought-out defense for taking a baby's life.  The Huffington Post blogger, Rabbi Aaron Alexander, wrote such a post to such a person like me.  It is from one person serious about their faith to another person serious about their faith who disagrees with him on the issue of life and abortion.

In opening, he makes a point about connecting religious belief with potential danger and coercion.  He recognizes my right to hold a religiously informed point of view then notes, "But, like all things religious, it is also potentially dangerous."  So, I assume, he is talking about his point of view.

Then, addressing the pro-life position, he says, "So this is the part I don't understand. Your definition of when life begins is not based on scientific fact. It is your religiously held belief. But it isn't mine....My religious tradition -- which prioritizes life above all else -- generally assumes that potential life doesn't become its own living entity until 40 days into the pregnancy."

What a curious set of things to string together.  Is he interested in the scientific evidence?  I'm not sure.  As far as I can tell all the actual scientific evidence that can be mustered in this debate tells us that the fertilized embryo is a human being.  The debate about whether or not it can be killed is not a scientific question, but one of value and meaning ('is it a wanted child?' 'will the mother be psychologically harmed if the child is carried to term?' 'when is it right to take the life of an innocent human being?' etc.).

Then our two views are pitted against each other with no clear arbiter.  They just are.  We simply hold two different opinions.  Great.

And then the inevitable happens.  He closes by saying,

You may disagree with my religion's definition. That I understand and respect. But here's the rub: when you attempt to legislate what my community (or any community) can and can't do based on your faith's definition, you don't just simply disagree with me. You are saying, to be blunt, that your religion is correct and mine is incorrect -- coercively. That takes a considerable amount of hubris that isn't worthy of either of our faiths, or our great country's principles, for that matter.

I do disagree, and I do respect his right to hold an opinion and defend it.  But I don't have any qualms about arguing for the rightness or accuracy of one position over another.  And, as it turns out, neither does he.  By asserting a position different from mine, and thereby either explicitly or implicitly hoping that I will hold his view instead of mine, he has violated his own standard.

But that's OK.  In fact, it is only right and natural that he does.  This is what we were given minds and rational capacities for - to aim at the truth of the matter.  I am glad I ran across his article - it has given me another opportunity to hear the 'other side's' argument and make sure my position is up-to-snuff.

And, surprisingly, I have no urge to be coercive or dangerous now.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Toward a Theology of Human Sexuality

I am increasingly impressed with the need for the Christian church to stop taking their cues from our current
(Western, American, Progressive) culture, and reclaim the high-ground of defining our terms and ideas.  We need to be deliberate about the church filling vocabulary and concepts with biblically-faithful truths for disciples and any other people we get to influence.  Only when we do, will we begin to make powerful disciples who have been dislodged from the drift of our culture's garbage barge and reconnected with the glory of a risen and present Savior.

I have offered several areas of engagement and reflection in the recent past, and I want to add another here: a theology of human sexuality.

More and more the drive of culture is to cheapen human sexuality, erase all barriers to sexual behavior, disconnect it from moral and biological realities, and turn it into (or back into) a bacchanalian free-for-all.  We all suffer when this happens.  Contrary to the propaganda, there is no freedom or personal fulfillment in border-less sexual behavior.  Teenagers (or any of us) are actually not like dogs in any significant way, and our sexual acts are not like those of animals in any significant way.  We do not free sexual expression by equating humans (especially young humans) with animals, rather we cheapen the human being.

So, to this end, I have a handful of initial thoughts which will hopefully lead to deeper reflection and a better understanding of how God created humans as sexual creatures.

Sexuality is a Gift of God's Creation
I do not speak of the sex act directly, but of sexuality - the quality of human relationships that joins us physically and spiritually.  It is the quality of our creaturely character that leads to the sex act, and it is a gift of God given to human beings by virtue of their being humans.  It is part of who we are, and it is a good thing.

Possibly the most useless teaching on human sexuality has been perpetrated on evangelical teens for decades - "Don't!"  I am in full agreement that teens should not engage in sexual behavior, but the lesson that is communicated through a completely negative concept leads to all kinds of shallow misunderstandings and frustrations in the future.  Instead of temporary behavior modification, what would teaching look like that highlights how it can be beautiful, productive, and God-honoring?  Is it possible that a positive message will be better for Christian disciples in the future?

Heterosexual, Monogamous, Life-Long Marriage is Where it Flourishes
Sexuality is intrinsically tied to gender, pleasure, and procreation.  As such, it is necessarily (and ironically) a communitarian act and it matters how I use my sexuality, because it can create or destroy relationships.

We are Soulish Beings First
One of the greatest crimes perpetrated by an overly-sexualized culture is the theft of your soul - at least your knowledge and awareness of your soul.  And the elimination of a soul is the beginning of the animalization of the human person.  From there it is only a short stone's throw to equating human sexuality with animal sex.

Sexuality is a part of your soul and it affects the shape of your soul.  It cannot be wielded without moral and spiritual consequence.

Misused and Misunderstood Sexuality is the Root of Many Things We (Currently) Call Evil
The human sex slave-trade is the direct result of misused sexuality.  The perpetuation of the abortion industry, partial-birth abortion, the explosion of the number of single mothers, the commodification of the human body, the sexualization of childhood - all these and more are the direct and necessary results of bad ideas about human sexuality.  So, can we address the solutions to these problems through reclaiming a thoroughly Christian theology of human sexuality? Quite possibly.

These are nutshells of ideas, but I believe them to be important.  The church simply can't sit around letting our culture define our ideas for us and hope that Christians grow up to be like Christ.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Pastor - Go Ahead and Preach Christ

"...the only mission strategy which will encourage our congregations, usefully employ our clergy, enable history-changing and kingdom-of-God-anticipating ministry, and enable us to evangelize with any degree of faithfulness and power is the preaching that there is salvation in no other name.  To ministers let me say this as strongly as I can.  Preach Christ, preach Christ, preach Christ. Get out of your offices and get into you studies. Quit playing office manager and program director, quit staffing committees, and even right now recommit yourselves to what you were ordained to do, namely the ministry of Word and sacraments. Pick up good theology books again: hard books, classical texts, great theologians. Claim the energy and time to study for days and days at a time. Disappear for long hours because you are reading Athanasius on the person of Jesus Christ or Wesley on sanctification or Augustine on the Trinity or Calvin on the Christian life or Andrew Murray on the priesthood of Christ. Then you will have something to say that's worth hearing." Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry, pg. 44

The Christian Church and Pastorate ought to take these kinds of challenges seriously.  Are many pastors and churches in a place from week to week where what is being communicated is really worth hearing, or is it a warmed-over version of pop-psychology and self-helpism?

My reaction to this section of Purves' book regards the need for the church to present a clear alternative to our culture's move to the social and moral left.  Right now our general drift is in the direction of progressive social reimagination, and all it really takes for the Christian message to stick out is for it to be proclaimed clearly.  But that simple step has a couple of prerequisites: clarity and courage.

Christian pastors need to be clear on what they believe, and not what the spirit of the age would like them to believe and proclaim from behind pulpits and in the public square.  It is the testimony of history, and is the testimony of our current state of affairs that the closer a church gets to the spirit of the age, the worse things go for the church.

Secondly, we need the courage to go ahead and stick out.  The Christian faith has always been on the side of truth, and the Church has always outlasted cultures that disliked and even persecuted them.  Don't let the secular left fool you - the arguments are on your side.  You don't need to emote to gather support for your cause.  You can present things like reality and knowledge.  And you have the Creator and Sustainer of all things going ahead of you.