Thursday, October 14, 2010

Doubt about Doubt

Many of us are drawn to stories of Christians who have struggled with doubt during tough times in their lives, and we are inspired by their journey and willingness to ask the tough questions as they seek answers. As of late, there has been an uptick in the number of books and blogs about doubt. I, however, have my own doubts.

To some, doubt is viewed as almost a virtue, something to be celebrated and used like buckshot against every sacred cow in Christendom. Not sure whether heaven exists? Great, neither are they! Should Christians have sex before marriage? Maybe, they'd love to discuss. Is the Bible just a bunch of writings that we subjectively interpret and take what we like? Pretty much, so don't you dare criticize progressive views on homosexuality or you’ll be directed to verses about head coverings and such. Of course, don't you dare mention the word "apologetics" to them, or you'll be accused of peddling "easy answers." All in all, they might be more comfortable with questioning the Faith than growing in faith. It’s a sad spectacle: a support group for the theologically infirm without any plan on how to get patients back on their feet.

Doubt is a valley every Christian will travel through on the journey to the mountaintop, but the Doubt crowd seems more interested in setting up camp at 200 feet below elevation.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Doubting Christians in an Age of Disbelief

Been a lot of talk about Christians and doubt on the blogosphere.
A few months ago, a Christian blogger gave an interview of another Christian on the subject of doubt. The question was posed, "If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?" The answer was, "I think it's wonderful, first of all, that you start the question "If heaven exists," because lots of people will think you can hardly be a Christian at all just for including that clause. I love it."
It reminded me of two schoolkids giggling over a curse word. That being said, there is nothing wrong with asking questions, but its sad that some Christians have elevated this to some sort of status symbol.
I'm skeptical of the narrative that the trend towards doubt by young Chrisitians is part of a larger rejection of evangelicalism, a disillusionment of Evangelicals supposed failure to ponder the "tough questions" as they say, (whatever the heck those questions are, because the critics usually don't bother to state them).
I don't doubt the horror stories of some about the church they grew up in, but the current trend (fad?) might have as much to do with their being influenced by secular culture than the supposed fault of evangelicalism as a whole for failing to ponder that which must not be pondered. Fact is, some people just don't like the answers. Who wants to be out there saying two guys can't love each other? That's so Moral Majority. Better to focus on the environment and the poor (apparently those Biblical passages aren't subject to interpretation like the verses on homosexuality supposedly are), which is what the evangelical critics seem to be doing today.
Neither do I believe that it is part of some overarching embracement of "relativism." I never bought off on the "relativism" v. "absolutes" thing, because when it comes right down to it, liberal theology (and secular belief and practice) is rife with its own set of absolutes (Jesus, if he ever existed, is not the way the truth and the life, discrimination is wrong; we should always help the poor, protect the environment, champion the rights of minorities, fight for gay marriage, support divestment in Israel, whatever, etc.).
I see the movement towards doubt among Christians today as little more than selective relativism packaged as post-evangelical intellectual maturity. Unlike other fads, such as parachute pants and Miami Vice, this is one isn't necessarily harmless.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Terrorism: Big Risk or Big Hype?

Interesting post from author Phil Cooke, who references studies demonstrating that the risk of being the victim of a terrorist attack is about the same as being killed by a tornado. While acknowledging that we have to protect ourselves, he states the following:

A little intelligence and a few drops of courage remind us that life is full of risk, and that of all the risks we confront in America every day, terrorism is a very minor one. Taking prudent steps to reasonably minimize the tiny threat we face from a few fanatic ciminals need not grant them the attention they crave. Continuing to play "Terrorball," on the other hand, guarantees that the terrorists will always win, since it places the bar for what counts as success for them practically on the ground.

I generally disagree.

He uses the term "tiny threat," but terrorism seemed like a "tiny threat" on Sep. 10, 2001. True, you probably have a greater chance of being mugged on the Metro in New York than blown up in a plane over New York, but the focus of our concern should not be about the number of attacks increasing or the theoretical possibility of one occurring. What should cause us continued concern is the magnitude of such potential attacks. One bomb goes off in a plane at 20000 feet and 200-300 people are pretty much dead, period.

However, the carnage is not just limited to those within the blast radius. Terrorism can cause political unrest or even spark a war, with more resulting loss of life. Israel v. Hezbollah, U.S. v. Taliban in Afghanistan, etc. WWI was sparked by one terrorist act, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. There is also a real chance of terrorists using nukes. Hasn't happened yet, but then again, we didn't think they would use planes as guided missiles. Does anyone believe that there aren't terrorists and rogue nations out who would like to see a mushroom cloud over D.C.?

I agree that civil liberties are always a concern, but I don't see a real tension between civil liberties and the Patriot act-type measures that even Democrats supported (until the election year, in which they caved to left-wing concerns). I hear a lot of rhetoric but little substance on the "we're losing our civil liberties" front. Where are the documented instances of people losing their right to freedom of speech, press, religion or association because of legislative initiatives in Congress over the last 10 years?

Balance is important, but I believe that we are achieving that, even now in spite of Pres. Obama's earlier dovish campaign rhetoric. Sure, he generally refuses to use terms like "war on terror" and made a rather ridiculous allusion to the underwear bomber being a product of an impoverished country, but this type of stuff is just window dressing for the benefit of the types. When it comes down to it, Pres. Obama is not surprisingly following in the footsteps of W. on Gitmo, Iraq, and other security-related fronts. It's easy to say one thing at a campaign stop in San Fransisco, it's quite another when you are sitting at the Resolute Desk and forced to think about the security of the Nation.

Frankly, I've seen more questionable concerns over civil liberties coming from the Obama admin than Bush, i.e. when the Obama admin who urged citizens to actually contact the White House if they learned of people supposedly distorting facts on health care. The White House was forced to end it soon after. And wasn't it the Obama admin (Dept of Homeland Security) who signaled out pro-life veterans as potential terrorist threat groups? Again, an apology was issued, but only because of the backlash. This sort of political profiling should be disconcerting to everyone, no matter what your party affiliation.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

That didn't take long

After the tragedy in Haiti, Pat Robertson *said (see below) that it was God's judgment for a supposed pact with the Devil back in the 18th century. I suppose God must not have learned about the deal until only recently. Perhaps he wasn't cc'd on the original correspondence.

National Review does a good job pointing out the fallacy of this kind of reasoning. NR probably didn't need to, but it's worth reading just the same. I would quibble with the writer's implication that Robertson is hard of heart and deaf to people's suffering - after all, Robertson's "Operation Blessing" is out there helping people as we blog, as Operation Blessing has for many years in response to suffering, but that being said, he deserved the thrashing he got.

Christian Broadcasting Network is in damage control, releasing a statement that he didn't really say what we all know he said.

Pat Robertson should really be irrelevant by now, but I guess he can't keep himself from reaching for the spotlight. You would think after being burned so many times, he'd stop.

Here's another thoughtful critique from a blogger.

(*Note: some Robertson defenders have rushed to point out that Robertson never actually used the term "God's judgment." Congratulations. They are all winners in the Bill Clinton "What the Meaning of Is Is" Award for Achievements in Grammatical Technicalities.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Take the Christmas Personality Test

The Christmas season is upon us once again, and like every year, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll be hearing the same old thing from the usual suspects. Which personality do you come closest to?

A. The Killjoy

The Killjoy, aka Killjoy to the World, is not a fan of Christmas by any stretch of the imagination, and might even become disoriented or hostile around blinking Christmas lights and some Christmas songs. You’ll usually hear the Killjoy harping on about Constantine, the origins of winter solstice festivals and how "Jesus didn't celebrate Christmas so neither am I." May also believe that Thanksgiving and Flag Day are of the Devil. No one knows exactly where this anti-Christmas mindset came from, but some believe that it results from receiving too many sweaters as Christmas presents during childhood. Although small in number, Killjoys have a disproportionate presence on blogs. Warning: Keep the Killjoy and the Pro-Christmas Activist apart at all costs.

B. Merry Melancholy

The Merry Melancholy likes Christmas in theory, but may have the same effect on people as the Killjoy. Although the Melancholy truly enjoys the season, they are prone to complain about how Christmas has been “commercialized and secularized” and rarely miss an opportunity to state that the real meaning of Christmas has been lost. Each year. Every year. They may also contrast how much we spend on Christmas with how much we give to the church. Merry Melancholys typically find employment as Pastors.

C. The Pro-Christmas Activist

The Christmas Activist loves Christmas, especially when it comes to giving the gift of boycotts and petition drives. When not writing letters to the editor over why we-shouldn’t-care-about-whatever-percent-of-the-atheist-population-thinks-about-Christmas, they are seeking out and flaming anti-Christmas blogs written by Killjoys or doing all their Christmas shopping online at Open to running for elective office.

D. The Anti-Pro-Christmas Activist

The Anti-Activist is not necessarily a Killjoy, and may in fact love everything about Christmas, but can quickly take on Melancholy traits when within earshot of a Christmas Activist. In this state, the Anti-Activist may be prone to blog incessantly about how Christians-would-do-well-do-focus-their-efforts-on-more-Christ-like-endeavors-like-working-soup-kitchens-and-stopping-global-warming-rather-than-supporting-Focus-on-the-Family’s-stupid-Christmas-boycott-of-the-Gap. The Anti-Activist despises pro-Christmas crusades and will usually respond by initiating an anti-pro Christmas crusade. The Anti-Activist has been known to say that they enjoy the company of a Killjoy and Melancholy, but it’s unclear whether this is just a ruse to tick off the Christmas Activist. May also run for elective office, but only if the Christmas Activist is on the opposing ticket.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Karaoke, Cookouts and Christianity

Karaoke: there is nothing worse than listening to some narcissistic no-talent hack butcher a perfectly good song, but after the freak show is over and he’s finally screeched, yelled, barked and groaned his last note, you’re expected to applaud. I don’t think so. So I admit that I just might be, perhaps, a tad bit biased against Karaoke to begin with.

However, I’m no prude. Or at least I thought I wasn’t. But really now, wouldn’t most parents assume that when going to a cookout organized by Christians and attended by approximately 60 children, that the Karaoke songs would not include lyrics like:

“Baby I want your love tonight. . . feel you pushing deeper inside of me.” That’s pretty darn close to an exact quote, and there was plenty more than that. Tragically, the woman who sung it had squirm-in-your-seat lack of talent, even by Karaoke standards. And the damn song just . . . wouldn’t . . . end.

“Last night, I did things I'm not proud of . . . And I got a little crazy . . . I don't even know his last name.” ("Well honey, in this song, Carrie Underwood has sex with a stranger, and because she was drunk, she can't remember his last name, assuming she ever asked in the first place.")

“Feels like the firrrrst time, feels like the very firrrst time.” (I suppose there are alternative interpretions of that particular song by Foreigner - I just don't feel like exploring their meanings with a 7 year old).

There were others. I'm truly surprised that "Like a Virgin" wasn't one of them - I expected to hear that one before the night was through. The choice of songs reflected either bad judgment, or, as I expect, the total absence of judgment. Thankfully, our kids were either in the bouncy slide thingamajig or the pool. Their were plenty of Christian teenagers listening, though.

Sorry to break the news to you, but being a Christian (parent) means being set apart. Different. We aren't going to do what the world does as a matter of course or live by the culture's standards. That doesn't mean that there is some exalted version of a proper Christian cookout to aspire to (open and close with prayer, serve grape juice and play Keith Green throughout?) - hardly. But I'd like to think that exposing kids to sexually themed lyrics is over the line, Christian or non-Christian line, for that matter.

I feel like a cross between the clueless parent who drags his five-year old along for the rated R movie, and the 90-year old deacon complaining because the youth group played Petra during Sunday school.

Oh, well. The fireworks display was a site to behold. Twenty-five minutes of the big stuff.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Evangelicalism No More - Mark Your Calendars

The Internet Monk has written on the coming Evangelical collapse. Ten years from now. I've already put it on my Outlook . . .

Executive summary: lots of doom and gloom with some rainbows.

"Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake." He says this "has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith. "

Not really. First of all, it's fair to say that the culture war was brought to them. Evangelicals had a few choices: do nothing, bow to peer pressure and reject Biblical teachings on life and sexuality, or take a stand. This "either-or" false dichotomy is raising its head once again, as if one can't be politically informed and engaged while true to the faith. Do you know of any conservative Evangelicals who can't articulate the Gospel anymore? I don't either. (I certainly hope your average Evangelical can do a lot more than that, btw).

We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it.

Well, maybe it is accurate, but I'm not up on the studies of where our young Evangelicals are at theologically, etc. . . . Any studies to confirm this? Barna, maybe . . .

Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.

Is that really the purpose of Christian education? To stop "secularism" in America? Because I spend a lot of money each month on Christian education, and frankly, I don't care what some yahoo in Vermont thinks about God when I see these direct debits every month. The goal of Christian education should be to support and compliment a parent's existing commitment to teach their children that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and to demonstrate that spiritual faith and intellectual knowledge compliment one another, as opposed to being mutually incompatible. If that ends up affecting the overall culture, great - welcome side effect, but not the purpose.

He says that he hopes the changes will remove the "prosperity Gospel from its parasitical place on the evangelical body of Christ."

I agree that it is a parasite that should be removed, but I think the health and wealth Gospel has been aptly condemned withing mainstream Evangelical-dom, so I think he overstates the problem. Hank Hanegraaff has been beating the drum on this for years.

Some of his interesting points:

Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority report in evangelicalism. Can this community withstand heresy, relativism, and confusion?

Short answer: if they aren't doing it now, I wouldn't be too optimistic about the future.

The loss of their political clout may impel many Evangelicals to reconsider the wisdom of trying to create a "godly society." That doesn't mean they'll focus solely on saving souls, but the increasing concern will be how to keep secularism out of church, not stop it altogether.

There is something to be said for focusing on the church's vices vice the culture's (I Corinthians 5).

"I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement."

Any studies on modern house church movements? I imagine it is pretty strong in China and similiar countries where freedom of religion is not so free. There is a growing movement in the US. I think in some ways people are drawn to it thinking that "oh, we are just going back to the simplicity of the N.T. days" etc. I wonder if it was really that simple. The grass is always greener, as they say . . .