Thinking Out Loud

January 31, 2011

Jerusalem, Judea and the Uttermost Parts

I had an interesting conversation after church yesterday.

The pastor had quoted the verse we commonly refer to as “The Great Commission;” the verse which reads,

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The person who spoke to me has a huge compassion for Israel and is willing to share this passion with any who want to know more about the various facets of how modern Israel fits into Old Testament history, New Testament studies, evangelism and missions, eschatology, etc.  We’ve had some great interactions, and I’ve learned much about The Holy Land from our conversations and various items she’s given me to read.

She suggested to me that perhaps the passage in Acts 1:8 might actually be taken most literally.  That we should be evangelists in Jerusalem.

I told her that neither those we call the “church fathers” nor modern commentators have interpreted this passage that way.  I mean, it’s an interesting take on the passage, and certainly in first century context it is correct; but we tend to read their commission into our commission and when we do so, we tend to think of Jerusalem as the place where we’re standing or sitting right now.  The place we call home.  My Jerusalem is the close family, co-workers, immediate neighbors, etc. who in a sense, only I can reach.

But people do read scripture differently, and many passages that seem straight-forward are subject to different understandings; just as I thought my wife was getting take-out today, and she thought I was going to meet her at the fast food place.  (We ended up eating at home.)

So in Acts and Paul’s epistles, my friend at church sees Paul’s consuming drive to bring the Gospel to the Jews; whereas I read Acts and am struck by how Paul was compelled to go to Rome against all odds.  (To be fair, both elements are present; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”)

Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends.  (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.”  Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however.  He chose Toronto, a city about an hour west of where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world.  Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission.  In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to.  Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea.  Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to.  Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do.  Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you rent DVDs who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence.   Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically.   Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

And perhaps, with its heat, humidity and propensity toward violence, perhaps your Samaria is modern-day Jerusalem.

January 30, 2011

God Meets Us in Our Greatest Burdens

Lets Have a Bible Study!
On Thursday, I posted the results of a U.S. pastor’s congregational survey of the “burdens” that members of his church identified as things they were dealing with.  Later that day, I considered the list in the light of a particular scripture verse in Isaiah, and posted my thoughts at Christianity 201. I’m reprinting it here not because it’s one of my best posts or an example of my finest writing, but because it basically shows my Bible study process taking place.  Some simple steps here — not in order — include (a) checking the context; (b) using multiple translations; (c) using study Bible notes; and (d) using Bible commentaries.  And of course, (e) asking blog readers for their suggestions!


He was wounded for our transgressions.

Those words, from the KJV of Isaiah 53:5 are probably among the scripture verses most known by heart.

By his stripes we are healed.

If you grew up Pentecostal or Charismatic, there is no escaping teaching on that part of the verse; no escaping the connect-the-dots between the scourging Christ suffered and the healing that is available to us today, in the 21st century.

But what about the third of the four clauses in that verse? Here’s the whole verse in the new NIV:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah, in this Messianic prophecy is saying that Christ’s suffering has brought us forgiveness for our transgressions and iniquities as well as (if you’re not dispensationalist) healing of mind and body.

But there it is, in the second-to-last, a reference to peace.

I mention all this because of a post I did at Thinking Out Loud, where a U.S. pastor had his congregation complete an index card indicating the trials they were facing and the burdens they were carrying. If Isaiah 53 applies, then it must apply to the point of bringing peace to the very doubts, anxieties, fears, angers, jealousies, anger, pride, insecurities, addictions, pain, disappointments, attitudes… and everything else that people mentioned on those little 3-by-5 cards.

First, let’s do some translation hopping:

  • He took the punishment, and that made us whole (Message)
  • The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him (NASB)
  • the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him (Amplified)
  • He was beaten so we could be whole. (NLT)
  • The punishment which gives us the peace has fallen on him (tr. of French – Louis Segond)

Clearly, the intent of this verse is that our peace is part of the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The New International Bible Commentary says:

Peace and healing view sin in terms of the estrangement from God and the marring of sinners themselves that it causes.

The ESV Study Bible notes on this verse concur:

His sufferings went to the root of all human vice.

Lack of peace as sin? Worry and anxiety as sin? That’s what both of these commentators seem to say.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary makes clear however that the peace that is brought is a general well-being, not simply addressing the consequences of sin.

But in the Evangelical Bible Commentary, something else is suggested, that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is bringing a peace that represents the restoration between God and man.

Many of the other commentaries and study Bibles I own do not directly address this phrase. A broader study of the chapter reveals a Messiah suffering for all of the burdens we bear, such as the ones listed above in the pastor’s survey. (“Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear…”)

I’d be interested if any of you can find any blog posts or online articles where this particular phrase is addressed apart from the wider consideration of the verse as a whole.

At this point, let’s conclude by saying that the finished work of Christ on the cross is sufficient for all manner of needs we face; all types of burdens we carry.

January 29, 2011

Relationships and the Internet’s Dark Side

Although the online version I posted exactly two-and-a-half years ago no longer resembles the print version I would still like to see published, I am convinced that The Pornography Effect: Understanding for the Wives, Daughters, Mothers, Sisters and Girlfriends contains information and ideas not being discussed elsewhere.

To bring those ideas to a wider audience, and to help confront what is still, 30 months later, a most serious problem, I’ve decided to occasionally reprint chapters of it here where there is a much larger readership.  The full text of the current draft is set up in a WordPress blog, but reformatted so that it reads like a book from start to finish.  It takes only 50-60 minutes to read and uses only two full screens to present the fifteen chapters in that draft edition.   You can link to the whole book here.

As a guy trying to write something that is intended to read by a dominantly female audience, I know that women are into relationships. So I thought that beginning there would be a good jumping off point. The point is that when guys view internet pornography it changes the relationship… (wait for it!) …with their computer.

I see two possible responses here.

Jim has done a bit of gaming, he knows how to check his stocks and mutual funds online, he has a friend who blogs, he’s got two e-mail addresses and he’s looking into switching his long distance from a standard carrier to VOIP on cable. Then he discovers the internet’s darker side.

Dawn, his wife, asks him to check her e-mail for a message from her mom, and from nowhere, she hears his voice answering her, “I’m not going anywhere near that thing.” He walks out to the patio and shuts the door.

Dawn’s understandably bewildered. Why doesn’t he want to check it? She opens the door, asking, “What’s the matter, did it bite you? Did you get an electrical shock off the keyboard?”

Around the block lives Rick. He loves to play the 300 variations on Solitaire he bought online, has a few friends he e-mails, likes to read articles from major newspapers online, and subscribes to a few comics to brighten the time when he gets home from work. Then a friend sends him a link to a site he thinks Rick will ‘enjoy.’ His eyes grow wide as the first image appears onscreen. His friend sends links to other websites.

Rick’s wife Alicia is unable to ignore what’s happened in the last few weeks. Rick has suddenly become an expert on all things related to the online world. He knows ‘search’ like never before, he’s suddenly an expert on downloading all manner of things, and it’s getting harder and harder for her to get any time online. Sometimes he’s up an hour early in the morning, and sometimes he’s up an hour late at night.

Alicia has entertained some suspicions, but anytime she walks by the screen all seems normal enough. But there’s no doubt in her mind that her man has suddenly transformed himself from a casual computer user to a rabid computer nerd. Or something.

Two guys. Two similar family dynamics. Two computers. But two entirely different responses. In the one case aversion, in the other case, immersion or saturation. One guy is treating the computer the way he might treat the family dog if it bit him. The other guy has suddenly become a handy guy to have around if you have any computer questions.

The point here is that those same reactions – aversion or immersion – can also affect the dynamics in a family. For sake of simplicity let’s ascribe the same reactions to couples with the exact same names.

Jim is suddenly cold toward Dawn. She doesn’t know why he doesn’t find her appealing anymore. She gets her hair styled, but he doesn’t seem to notice. There are fewer hugs. Fewer intentional touches. Jim’s aversion could be because he’s finding sexual fulfillment online. Jim’s aversion could be caused by the fact he simply feels guilty and suddenly finds sexuality – even sensuality – for lack of a better word, dirty.

But over at Rick’s house, Alicia couldn’t be happier. Jim has come alive sexually in ways she’s never seen before. Secretly, she wonders where he’s getting all these new ideas. But things are far too exciting to stop and think about it. She figures that maybe he read a book or an article in a newspaper. At any rate, she’s not going to complain.

Within the context of happy marital relations, Rick and Alicia’s situation would seem to be the better of the two, but what is Rick thinking – or pretending – while all this is going on? And what would a psychologist say about the fact that of the two men, Rick is the one who appears to be ‘acting out’ on his newfound interest?

The ‘acting out’ question is critical here because if exposure to internet pornography changes the relationship dynamics between a man and his wife or his girlfriend, could it have consequences for his daughter, his sister or his mother? Don’t be too quick to discount any of those, because when you see the recurring types of sexuality, and the themes that are dominant on the internet, you soon discover that there is a fine line between using the ‘net to stimulate healthy sexuality between a man and woman who are in relationship, and more overt perversity.

Furthermore, it’s a slippery slope that I’m certain leaves some guys saying, “I never thought that could happen to me.”

I would submit that almost from the first minute of viewing, that exposure to internet pornography is going to change the way the guy – any guy – looks at any female, from strangers to women in close proximity. I would submit that for most guys, if the escalation of interest in online erotica continues unchecked, there would come a point where ‘acting out’ would be considered, if not actually carried out. (In other places of course, you can read stories that indicate just about all the perpetrators of sexual crimes trace their behavior back to exposure to pornography. Logically, that doesn’t mean the story will end there for every man, but it means that with those for whom it did end there, its beginnings are undeniable.)

Even if nothing criminal ever happens, the consequences could be huge. One silly off-the-cuff remark to a female coworker could end a longtime career; a remark that wouldn’t have been made if certain thoughts hadn’t been planted in his head. One indecent suggestion to a friend’s wife, a cousin or a neighbor’s wife could totally destroy families, friendships and neighborhoods; a suggestion that would never have been vocalized if the person didn’t think that such behavior could be considered normal.

Someone once compared the things that enter our thought life to what happens when farmers sow seeds and later reap the harvest. The little verse goes:

Sow a thought, reap an action;

Sow an action, reap a habit;

Sow a habit; reap a lifestyle.

One thing is certain, whether there’s aversion or attraction, interpersonal dynamics are changed. Someone has said, “You are what you eat.” You certainly are what you read or view on television or your computer screen.

I don’t think anybody who stays connected with pornography remains the same person they were.

…Continue reading here…

Dogs and Cats in the Bible

Filed under: bible, Humor — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:35 am

cat

Some weekend fun with a post that first appeared in January of 2009:

Hands up everybody who has been told this at some point:

The cat is the only domestic animal not mentioned in the Bible

But I’d like to offer a corollary to this great axiom:

…but the dog is never exactly depicted in a positive way

In fact, given these verses, I’ll take the absence of a mention in scripture over what follows. Think about it:

Revelation 22:15
Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

Luke 16:21
and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

Matthew 15:26
He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

Matthew 7:6
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

Philippians 3:2
Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.

…and those are just the New Testament examples; imagine if we include a few OT ones like:

Isaiah 56:11
They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain.

Proverbs 26:11
As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.

1 Samuel 24:14
“Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog? A flea?

Exodus 22:31
“You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs.

Psalm 59:14
They return at evening, snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city.

By the way, I think “dog” has got to be one of those words which doesn’t change according to various English translations of the Bible. (There are 40 instances in the NIV.)

Stay tuned next week for another chapter in Superficial Bible Studies.

Related post — April 2008 — Cold Noses at the Pearly Gates — where Charles Colson argues our pets won’t be in heaven

Related post — August 2008 — Remixing Cold Noses — where I backtrack on my endorsement of Colson after reading Randy Alcorn.

I included “Theology” in the tags… that’s gonna disappoint a few people; but if you’re one of them and that’s what brought you, now that you’re here, check out some other posts in this blog.  (It can only improve from here, right?)

January 28, 2011

Friday Debrief

No this is isn’t a start of a supplement to the Wednesday Link List, it’s just a few things that deserved a larger space committment without creating several individual posts:

  • Darryl Dash highlighted a small section of the CT interview with Billy Graham on Tuesday; the section where Mr. Graham is asked if he would do anything different, and he replies that he would have spent more time family.  But tucked away inside that response is this revelation:
     

    I also would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.

  • I’ve been checking blogs to see what anticipation there is for the new Rob Bell book, Love Wins, which I mentioned briefly here last Friday; and in the process read (and left a comment at) this post at the UK (Ireland?) blog Supersimbo.  The blog writer views people under 40 as
     

    “Jumping from one book to another, switching from being a fan of Bell to Driscoll and back again as often as the wind changes, treating our faith and beliefs like an app for our iPhone or iPad…..liking his ‘theology’ because of how its packaged and advertised!”

    The conclusion is that readers will miss the importance of the message of Christian universalism that it contains. To clarify this a little further, he responded to me in the comments section with a link to a Margaret Feinberg interview with Scot McKnight, where McKnight describes Christian universalism as “the biggest challenge facing American Evangelicals.”  He goes on to define it:

    Christian universalism if the belief that everyone will eventually be saved because of what Christ has done. Christian universalism differs from raw pluralism. Pluralism is the belief that no religion offers superiority in the process of redemption. With pluralism, all religions lead us to the same god and the same ends. The distinction for Christian universalists is that what God did for humans in Christ will redeem all humans, whether they are Hindus, Muslims, or atheists, all will eventually be saved.

  • Another Bible translation?  Yep!  Steve Webb is single-handedly working on a project called the Lifespring Family One Year Bible which he is releasing in sections online and in a podcast. Who is Steve Webb? That’s a long story.   Here’s a sample from Genesis 9:
     

    9:1 And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Reproduce abundantly, and be fruitful and increase in number on the earth.
    9:2 All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the air, all that move on the earth, and all the fish in the sea will fear you. I have placed them in you hand.
    9:3 Every living thing that moves will be your food. As I gave you green plants, now I give you everything.

  • Finally, a court has upheld the right of World Vision to enforce its policy of hiring Christian employees.This story is from EWTN, a Catholic news agency.
     

    In a 2-1 ruling, a panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a petition to re-hear a case which charges that a religious charity illegally fired employees because they no longer agreed with its statement of faith……The organization said it terminated the three employees in 2007 because they “no longer agreed with World Vision U.S.’s statement of faith.” The organization discovered that the employees denied the divinity of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity.

    One employee worked in technology and facility maintenance, one was an administrative assistant, and the third coordinated shipping and facilities needs.

    They later sued, claiming their termination was an act of illegal discrimination. A federal district judge had previously ruled against the plaintiffs, prompting the appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

    World Vision praised the decision to reject the appeal and pledged vigorous defense of its right to hire employees who share its faith. “Our Christian faith has been the foundation of our work since the organization was established in 1950, and our hiring policy is vital to the integrity of our mission to serve the poor as followers of Jesus Christ,” the organization said…

    Similar organizations in Canada have faced this issue before, such as, most recently, Christian Horizons.

January 27, 2011

The Burdens We Carry

Yesterday in the link list, I noted a sermon preached by Ron Edmondson at Grace Community Church in Kenwood and Rossview (Clarksville), Tennessee.  In it, he asked his congregation to complete an index card indicating the particular “weights” and burdens they were carrying. Though the cards were anonymous, they collected over 1,000 of them and compiled them statistically showing the areas in which people are struggling.

Here are the results:

I would have guessed that health concerns was high on the list, but presumably included in the section of general anxieties (the green section at 20%) and combined with doubt, which I would think is a whole different matter altogether, this area of concern did not rate #1.

The third largest area, dealing with disappointments from the past, is something I’m dealing with right now. I think a lot of people fall into this category. The sale they didn’t make. The girl that turned down the date. The offer on the house that didn’t go through. I wrote about this a year ago in a review of a Steve Arterburn book I called Regrets, I Have a Few.

But the number one area, as you can see clearly in the pink section, has to do with four areas that I’ll list in bullet points so that together, we can read them slowly and consider each one:

  • Jealousy
  • Pride
  • Grudges
  • Anger

Let’s re-list those differently

  • Wishing we had the possessions or status that others have
  • Consumed with the image others have of us
  • Wanting to ‘play God’ and thereby ‘level the playing field’ of perceived inequities
  • Thinking that individual inequities mean that God is unfair, and boiling over with resentment toward Him and/or others

If the stats at Ron’s church are right, this will strike a response with many people reading this, as will other areas included in the chart. God wants to bring healing change into our lives to deal with these issues. In the sermon attached to the link with the graphic — if you have problems switch over to his church site and simply listen to the audio — he tells stories of people whose life journey has involved intense pain. It can be so hard to move on. It can be so difficult not to “be defined by” the circumstances of personal life history.

While Ron’s focus is on the burdens we carry, I think it’s fair to also mention that we need to be sensitive to the needs of others around us who are carrying their burdens.

Ron asks his congregation these questions:

  • What do you need to leave behind?
  • What changes do you need to make in your life in order to live fully for Christ?
  • What failures do you need to forget.
  • What disciplines do you need to take on?
  • Whom do you need to forgive?
  • What grudge do you need to release?
  • What burden do you need to give back to God?
  • Do you need to trust God more?
  • Do you need to serve others more?

Ron concludes, “One of the roadblocks to your future may be the past that you refuse to let go of.”

To listen to the entire sermon as a podcast, click here and select 1/2/2011


January 26, 2011

Wednesday Link List

IMHO, everything here is a must-read / must-watch this week.

  • Should I stay or should I go? If you’re in leadership, remember that not everybody is told to journey into a far country like Abraham, or for that matter Francis Chan. Steven Furtick shares a special 9-minute video message.
  • With people hungry or in great physical need, why invest money in Bible translation? This link will take you to a series of four articles by Eddie and Sue Arthur that will deal with the question(s), ‘Why not provide water or food or medicine first?‘ If you can’t get to all of them, read The Bible and Hunger.
  • Imagine my surprise on learning that the beloved King James translation of the Bible — celebrating a four-century anniversary this year — relied heavily on borrowing from a previous translation.
  • What burdens are you carrying?  Ron Edmondson asked his congregation that question and provides a statistical breakdown of the over 1,000 responses on the common struggles we all face. You can also watch the sermon he preached at Grace Community Church in Clarksville, Tennessee. I may come back to this in a few days here, too.
  • It’s Cross and the Switchblade all over again; only this time it’s the lions and the kings who are gettin’ ready for a rumble at the schoolyard. This video has actually been out six months now, but check out “God Save The Foolish Kings” by House of Heroes, a song that truly reminds me of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
  • Many have expressed concern over the ‘Christianization’ of yoga; concern with some churches offering yoga classes weekly. But now a Hindu group is sharing that concern, and want to see the religious roots of yoga brought to the forefront, albeit for different reasons.
  • What’s in a church name? Plenty. Do it right or you’ll end up — justifiably — on Fail Blog like this church did.
  • And speaking of names, next time you’re in a wider-market bookstore and you see the word “devotional” on a title, you can no longer assume it’s a Christian or even a religious title.
  • There will always be things that take place in the Body of Christ that cause the corners of our mouths to turn up a bit. But what about this whole subject of humor? In a rare editorial, the curator of  Sacred Sandwich explains why the Christian humor and satire site has been heard from less frequently over the past few months.
  • What can’t computers tell us? First it was CCLI tracking the top 25 worship songs; now it’s Bible Gateway telling us the top ten Bible verses. “This week on the countdown show, Matthew 6:33 moves up five notches from number 14 to number 9 [applause].”
  • What if you invited a seven-member band to perform at a service that only four people showed up for? Apparently, that happened to Mark Batterson, as outlined in this review of his new book Soulprint at Christian Post.
  • In an excellent lead to what follows, here’s a look at the spiritually-themed panels in the funnies section from the Comics Curmudgeon.
  • Our cartoon this week is artist Vic Lee’s 2007 tribute to the Left Behind series.

January 25, 2011

Bob George on Knowing God

Classic Christianity remains one of my all-time favorite Christian books.  Enjoy…

There’s a big difference between knowing what something says and knowing what it means.  Millions of Christians know what the Bible says, but many do not know what it means, because that can only be revealed by the Spirit. Man’s pride rebels against the idea that he cannot understand spiritual truth on his own but this is what the Bible clearly says:

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  (I Cor 2:14)

The reason why is very simple, there is no human alive who can read another man’s mind and if we cannot know what another human being is thinking how much less can we ever know what God is thinking? I Cor 2:11 reminds us of this:

For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

How then can God teach us his thoughts? “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (v. 12) Man does not need the enlightening ministry of the Holy Spirit to understand the law; the law was given specifically for the natural man. We need the Holy Spirit to open our minds to the things having to do with the unfathomable riches of His love and grace, those things that “God has freely given us.” Those truths are described in I Cor. 2:9 this way:

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.

In order to understand the things that God wants to teach us regarding His grace we must have a humble, teachable attitude for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) Just as the same sun that melts wax hardens clay, the same message of God’s grace that softens the heart of the humble hardens the proud.  The proud cannot receive grace because the proud will not receive grace…

That is why an uneducated but humble person will receive far more genuine and intimate knowledge of God Himself than a highly educated but arrogant theologian…

Bob George, Classic Christianity

January 24, 2011

My Jesus Year: An Evangelical Embed With An Alternative Agenda

Ever since Jim Henderson took Casper the Friendly Atheist to church, I’ve had a fascination with books where  a “fish out of water” give us a fresh take on what the Christian world looks like to an outsider. This weekend, I completed yet another such tome.

In Jim and Casper Go To Church, the “fish” was a foreigner to all things religious.  In My Jesus Year: A Rabbi’s Son Wanders the Bible Belt in Search of His Own Faith, the writer, Benyamin Cohen is all to familiar with what is, potentially at least, going on inside a house of worship.

As I type this, I am aware that I’ve lost track of the number of this type of book I’ve read recently, though certainly the Jim Henderson & Matt Casper title was the one that got this genre going for me.  Then there was Kevin Roose’s semester at Liberty University, chronicled in Unlikely Disciple.  And of course, Daniel Radosh’s investigation of Christianity in Rapture Ready.

Radosh like Cohen is Jewish, but there the similarity ends. Radosh is doing investigative journalism, albeit some of it with tongue firmly in cheek. Benyamin Cohen is on a personal quest; on a personal mission. He is seeking to connect with his own faith by immersing himself in the Christian culture he has always lusted after from afar.

But unlike the other writers embedded for the ride, Cohen continues to attend synagogue as well. It makes for some very tiring weekends. To make matters worse, this Rabbi’s son is married to the daughter of a Methodist minister who was on a road to conversion to Judaism before they met. She is able to provide him with briefing and de-briefing information, but is not along for the ride at all. Oh, and just to make it all that much more colorful, the Rabbi who has given his ‘blessing’ to the one-year project insists that Cohen wear his press credentials and his yarmulke wherever he goes.

Bottom line; this is a book that is really more about Judaism than it is about Christianity. It’s about faith, the quest for faith, finding faith; and purports to show that there are more similarities than differences.

On that point, I am not so sure. Cohen was reared in Orthodox Judaism, that branch of the faith requiring the highest level of devotion to its various laws and interpretation of the laws.

Still, there were a couple of serendipitous parallels between Cohen’s faith journey and my own that were tucked away in sentences almost hidden in the narrative. One was a reference to Benyamin and Elizabeth’s simultaneous membership in two different synagogues. As I mention that, I do so knowing that my wife and I are currently listed in the directory of two different church families. The other was a reference to their decision to ditch the main services taking place over the Jewish high holidays in order to worship with about twenty other people at an “alternative” service in a smaller classroom. That is so something my wife and I would choose to do.

Like Casper and Radosh and Roose, Cohen does not convert at the end, just in case you’re wondering. (Hardly a spoiler!) Though in a way, he does; describing his journey as a later-in-life finding of his own faith.

Cohen is embedded in more than just evangelical culture — this review’s title flawed with an irresistible alliteration — and his journey also takes him into a Catholic confessional booth, and inside the home of a woman being proselytized by Mormon Missionaries. But the book is really a primer for Christians on Orthodox Jewish faith and practice, and simply uses the alleged similarities between the two faith systems as a means to explain his own.

My Jesus Year was published in hardcover by HarperOne in 2008 and in paperback in 2009. It is well-written, engaging, evocative and a must-read for Christians who want to get to know their Jewish neighbors.

January 23, 2011

C. S. Lewis Defines “Progress”

…You may have felt you were ready to listen to me as long as you thought I had anything new to say; but if it turns out only to be religion, well, the world has tried that and you can’t turn back the clock.  If anyone is feeling that way…

First, as to putting the clock back.  Would you think I was joking if I said that you can put a clock back, and that if the clock is wrong it is often a very sensible thing to do?  But I would rather get away from that whole idea of clocks.

We all want progress.  But progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

…I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.

~C. S. Lewis, Basic Christianity

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