Archive for April, 2010

Confessions of an Evolving Christian

Saturday, April 24th, 2010 by Jason Wermuth

For the past few months I have been thinking a lot about the issue of evolution and the Church. Many Christians today are wholly sold on the idea that evolution is a giant lie perpetuated by the new atheists and angry scientists who hate God. I actually bought into that idea until I started to meet and hear many Christian intellectuals who had no problem reconciling their beliefs with a concurrent acceptance that evolution is simply the method that God used to do the work of creation. My immediate reaction to this idea was a series of “what-ifs”: What if God did not actually breathe the literal breath of life into Adam’s nostrils at the moment of creation? What if Adam was not the first man? What if we had a common ancestor? What if what I have been taught for years was wrong? The questions kept coming and so I began a search for answers. Many of these questions were addressed in the video discussion last Sunday, on Mike DiFuccia’s post, so I will not recap his highlights, but I do want to discuss my journey thus far and where I am right now. I hope you will enter into the discussion (with charity) and perhaps we can think about this issue together as we all seek God’s truth wherever it is found.

In my quest for truth, I first came to acquaint myself with the Intelligent Design (ID) movement. I immediately thought, “these guys must have the answers!” They are (mainly) Godly  people who are also world class scientists and philosophers. After watching films such as Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed and Unlocking the Mystery of Life and reading many articles on the issue, I was more or less convinced that the Intelligent Design argument was at least worthy of listening to more. As I did more research, however, I came across many scientists, many of whom happened to be Christian, who questioned the conclusions of the ID movement. One such scientist was Francis Collins who recently wrote The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. In this book, Collins outlines his proposal for theistic evolution, which he calls BioLogos. From here I began reading material from his BioLogos foundation and was surprised to find that there are actually many evangelical Christian scientists, biblical scholars and pastors who adhere to the BioLogos explanation of theistic evolution. In a video on YouTube, Collins made a staggering statement that I had heard from many atheists, but never from a scientist who was Christian, he states that “[Evolution] is a theory in the same sense the gravity is a theory.” I can understand a scientist who is not a Christian making such a claim, but I had to try to figure out why a committed Christian, who also happens to be a world renowned Geneticist and former head of the Human Genome Project, would also need to make such a claim; why not simply accept the ID arguments? Furthermore, why does a Christian, who happens to be a scientist, start a foundation to try to help Christians understand why their faith in God does not require them to deny the “facts” of evolution? These are not questions that I have the answer to yet, but I think that we as Christians need to begin to pay close attention to these sort of developments and not bury our heads in the sand.

Click below to continue reading (it gets better):

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The Westminster Captivity of Evangelicalism

Friday, April 23rd, 2010 by Dale M. Coulter

Anyone paying attention to recent trends within evangelicalism knows about the “New Calvinism.” Time published a piece on the movement just over a year ago as one of the  10 ideas changing the world. The usual list of names associated with it are Albert Mohler, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Mark Dever, among others. I have also seen Michael Horton on a list or two. Regardless of whether the “New Calvinism” is actually new, and some bloggers have their doubts, it is exposing the fault lines in Reformed theology within the U.S. More importantly, in my view, it is highlighting what I would describe as the “Westminster Captivity” of American evangelicalism, particularly its Reformed wing, which I see as a positive development.

Before explaining myself further, an admission: While I attended Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL, I am not Reformed. Rather, I am a Classical Pentecostal within the holiness stream that goes back to John Wesley. And, I now teach at an institution shaped by the Reformed charismatic theology of J. Rodman Williams whose heritage I wish to honor. Now, on to the explanation: Read the rest of this entry »

Spiritual but not Religious?

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010 by Antipas Harris

Lately, I have been hearing more and more Christians speaking negatively about the notion of being religious. They say things like “I am spiritual but I am not religious.” Others say, “I am in relationship with God but I am not religious.” Often, I even hear preachers say, “Don’t be religious.” Or, in their sermons, they speak negatively about being religious.

Such negative references to being religious strike me as strange. Why would Christians (who are also called ”People of the Book”), distance themselves from being called religious?

Perhaps, we need to revisit the meaning of the term “religion.” The term comes from Latin and means “to bind one’s self.” Religion, moreover, means to bind or discipline one’s self to moral principles and practices and, furthermore, to express those commitments publicly and unashamedly.

Perhaps, in our increasingly secularized world people are less and less interested in discipline– even Christians. However, at the inception of Christianity, before the followers of Jesus were called Christians, they were called “disciples of Jesus.”

I submit that everyone who claims “relationship with Jesus” or who emphasize “Christian spirituality” must by definition of what it means to be emissaries of Christ also be religious. By this, I mean that it is impossible to have a relationship with Jesus without binding one’s self to Christ’s teachings and moral principles.

Christian spirituality is vibrant as the transcendent Spirit of Christ that dwells in humans who receive Christ. This Spirit of Christ disciplines us to walk and be as Christ in the world. It is, therefore, impossible for Christians to be Spiritual but not religious.

It seems that when people distance themselves from being called “religious,” they really mean something else. The first possibility is that we do not want Christianity to stand alongside other Religions of the world. So, to disassociate Christianity from the language of “religion” is an effort to articulate the unique character of Christianity– we can have a vibrant relationship with a living God through Jesus Christ rather than idols, etc.

The second possibility is that certain brands of Christianity with which we are familiar are distasteful. For example, if one has had interactions with a group of Christians or a particular brand of churches that subscribe to very strict rules about dress, food, worship, behavior and days of worship with which one disagrees, it could leave “a bad taste in my mouth” about God and church. So, when I find a brand of Christianity with which one agrees, that person might say that this is “relationship and not religion”– referring to the past experience as “religion and not relationship.”

The third possibility is that some churches are dry in worship expressions and do little for the vitality of the community. So, when one finds a community that is softer on teachings of “holiness” with little accountability, one feels free. But that freedom is individualistic and disconnected from communal subscription to holistic teachings of holiness. In other words, one is free to live and act at will rather than free to live and act according to teachings and principles that impact Christian wholeness.

It is a poor interpretation of “freedom to do as I feel” to name it “freedom in the Spirit.” Freedom in the Spirit should not be confused with “having my way.” What one really means is “freedom to live as I feel and still be in good standing with my church.”  Churches, today, do not emphasize total discipleship (but that is a blog for another day). The question for today is, What does Jesus expect of me– relationship or religion? I submit that Jesus expects us to discipline ourselves to His teachings and the teachings of the New Testament. These teachings address all of life– even the parts of life that we rather not. There is no way to separate holistic discipline from a vibrant relationship with Jesus

In summary, to separate “Christian Spirituality and religion” or “relationship and religion” is a false bifurcation. While some churches might have it wrong pertaining to specific rules of conduct, dress, food, etc, true Christian Spirituality and authentic relationship with God through Jesus Christ has something to say about total human experience including how we behave, how we dress, how we eat, how we live, how we relate to others, etc.

Let’s seek true discipleship with Christ. That involves a relationship that is religious, by the true definition of the term– religious.

Health Care Begins with You!

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010 by Diane Chandler

When I’m 95 years old (and I hope to live that long in good health!), I don’t want someone to have to pull me out of a chair.  I want to live a long, healthy life and be used by God to fulfill His purposes.  Don’t you?

The human body is truly fearfully and wonderfully created by God. Good physical health positively impacts our spirits, minds, and emotions. Conversely, poor health negatively influences these areas.  In our fast-paced world, we may tend to unintentionally ignore the healthy care of our bodies because of busyness, stress, and other important priorities.  Yet our holistic health is vital for our longevity (remember, I want to live to be 95!).

I place a high value on physical health and wellness and have experienced their positive short- and long-term benefits.  I’m trying to model the message of healthy living that I espouse.  I have a long ways to go, but I’m committed to honor God through faithful stewardship of my physical body.  Just think…when the Lord sought for a home for His Spirit, He chose the believer’s body.  Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit

Think with me for a moment.  In the US, one in four deaths is attributed to cancer, many of which are preventable.  Because of three close friends being diagnosed with cancer in the past two years, I’m more convinced than ever that we need to give due attention to proper nutrition, hydration, physical exercise, sleep, and stress reduction.  (I’ll be occasionally discussing these topics in future blog posts.)  The recent book by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life, chronicles one doctor/scientist’s personal journey with cancer and how he discovered some key principles to regain health. 

I applaud First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity.  However, our government alone cannot insure public health.  We all need to make life style changes that contribute to our wellness and longevity.  Health care begins with you!

When was the last time you heard a sermon or teaching in church on stewarding our physical health and wellness?  In light of the increasing federal deficit, what future role might the church play in fostering physical health and wellness in local communities?

Grains of Sand

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010 by James Flynn

Socrates once said that “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Don’t you agree?  Life and its experiences are God’s primary tools for our growth and maturity. Yet, many Christians are so heavenly minded that they fail to mine everyday life for its treasure and their life goes unexamined. Could it be that life experience makes us uncomfortable sometimes?  Many of our beliefs are safe as long as they remain in the realm of abstraction, because that realm is neat, orderly, logical, and precise. Life is a different matter altogether. It is messy, chaotic, and notoriously difficult to predict—that is, unless you are God.  It also presents us with some wonderful opportunities to know God more intimately and understand ourselves more clearly.

I think the “why” questions in life are particularly unnerving. I honestly don’t know whether to consider myself a Calvinist or an Arminian. Perhaps I am a Calminian or an Arvinist. From both the Scriptures and life experience, it is evident that we serve a sovereign God and that His sovereign plan unfolds each day in our lives. It is also abundantly clear that each person has a free will, somehow integrated into God’s sovereign plan in a way that makes us responsible for our own choices and actions. To deny either position requires some significant biblical gymnastics, but to embrace both requires a reach beyond reason.

It seems that God’s sovereignty and humanity’s free will are both factually true at the same time, though they seem to be in opposition to one another. While seemingly contradictory, they are somehow reconciled in the infinite heart and nature of God, who refuses to be put in one clever theological box or the other. I realize that this way of understanding life may not be very neat, but it does allow for a vital element of knowing God—mystery. I am growing more comfortable with mystery all the time, and being able to revel in mystery is essential for anyone seeking to grow spiritually, or to make some sense of life for that matter.

Transformational growth flows from life and its experiences. When a Christian takes the time to get in touch with what God is already at work doing in his or her life, life experiences give flesh to truth so that we can see, hear, touch, and handle it (1 John 1:1,2). What we see as everyday events and seemingly random occurrences are actually parts of a divinely orchestrated opportunity to experience truth and its application in everyday life. Life experiences deepen our understanding of truth. Charles Spurgeon said that “God is every day preaching to us by similitudes. The things which we see about us are God’s thoughts and God’s words to us; and if we were but wise there is not a step that we take, which we should not find to be full of mighty instruction.” We just need to open our eyes and look around

God is intimately acquainted with each little detail of my life to a level that is too much for me to fathom.  The level of detail that encompasses God’s thoughts toward every human being is unimaginable—who can count the number of sands by the edge of the sea? The psalmist goes on to sing these words:  “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!  If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand (Ps. 139:17-18).” This particular passage fascinates me. It is full of the kind of mystery and wonder I would have designed into life if I were God for a day.

With this in mind, is it too much for us to believe that there is treasure waiting to be discovered as life unfold this day with all its mystery and wonder?  Each day brings new encounters and experiences that can add to our personal growth. Every day we experience joy, pain, sorrow, triumph, defeat, and a host of other things that can potentially bring us closer to God if we are willing to fearlessly examine our lives.  God’s thoughts are being lived out around you each day.  Life with all its pressure and fire can transform these grains of sand into precious gems.  There are diamonds all around you today, waiting to be discovered.  Open your eyes and take time to see.

Sex…and Why We Keep God out of the Bedroom

Monday, April 19th, 2010 by Wolfgang Vondey

There is one place most of us stop thinking about God: the bedroom. No, I do not mean when we sleep. I mean when we have sex. For most of us, God stops at the door to the bedroom. In the most intimate moment between husband and wife, God is polite enough to wait outside. God is not a voyeur, no Peeping Tom–or Peeping Jesus, if you will. God obtains no sexual gratification by observing others surreptitiously. But does God’s participation in our lives exclude our sexuality? Does God gain no satisfaction from our engagement in the most intimate form of interpersonal relationships? For God, is sex only a means of procreation? The answer, I think is that we envision God fundamentally as a non-sexual being. As a result, we see sex as an element of the Christian life that does not engage the existence of God.

Of course, sexuality is a precarious topic, even on a blog (and particularly when the blog is an official blog like this one). We are comfortable discussing politics, economics, and popular culture, but there is a barrier when it comes to sex. While we should respect this barrier when it is the result of a particular cultural formation and tradition, there is no reason to shun the topic from theology, in principle. In fact, the absence of questions about sex in theology books, sermons, seminaries, and classrooms is symptomatic of a much larger problem: relegating our thoughts about God to only certain areas of the Christian life. We engage God when we have the time and place and occasion to do so. What we forget to ask is when God desires to engage us.

God desires to engage us at all times. God is never tied up, never tired, never ashamed. We, on the other hand, live a constant battle with the most immediate result of original sin: shame–the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something we consider dishonorable, improper, or ignominious. Original shame is the reaction Adam and Eve show with regard to each other’s nakedness. But more importantly, it is seen in their desire to hide from God.

Even as Christians, we often continue to live out the consequences of original shame. We may attribute to God the creation of a child, even the moment of conception, the ability of the sperm to fertilize the egg. But often, these things are spiritualized or seen from a clinical perspective. We hesitate to find God in the sex itself, the way husband and wife honor and engage each other, the sexual intercourse, and the orgasm. All these things are too … well, what are they? Too graphic for us to consider as Christians? Too offensive? Too untheological? Too human? Too private? Too personal?

These questions are compounded when it comes to sexual activity outside the biblical paradigm of marital relations. Sexual immorality, homosexuality, and masturbation are just some examples where we would rather not consider the presence of God. Overeating, extreme dieting, hurtful exercising, visual over-stimulation, and many other activities that engage the physical body often show a similar avoidance of God. The question is not whether God condemns such activities but to what extent God is present in them. We can answer this question only if we first of all reflect on it, not as outsiders or in hindsight, but while we are pursuing these activities. We may discover that God is deeply interested in engaging us on these most intimate levels of life, because these acts fundamentally engage us with our own selves. In the sexual act we are the most vulnerable. Sex engages us as a whole person, body, soul, and spirit, and it is this engagement that shame is trying to hide from us. As a result, we dichotomize God’s engagement also in other areas of human existence, especially when those areas include any activity of the physical human body. God has become a God of soul and spirit only, and to most of us that is sufficient enough to say that we have made God the Lord over the whole of our lives.

The solution to this problem is, of course, to allow God into the bedroom. But let me suggest that that is the end result; it does not suggest a way to get there. What we need first is an extension of theology to all areas of Christian living. We need to take our doctrines of God, the Trinity, Christology, the Holy Spirit, salvation, and the like, and celebrate them at all moments and events of human existence. Theology is not a particular activity we engage in only at certain times. All of Christian life is theology.

… To be continued