Thinking Out Loud

April 15, 2013

Who Are You Sleeping With? Tim Keller at Gospel Coalition

Filed under: issues — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:16 am

On the one hand, I no longer give a lot of space here to what the New Calvinists are up to.  My feeling is that when they finally reach consensus on the question, “What is the Gospel?” they can send up smoke signals like they do in The Vatican.

But there’s no denying the wisdom and influence of Redeemer Presbyterian (New York, NY) pastor and author Timothy Keller.  So there was a lot of excitement over the weekend over a post by Derek Rishmawy who has a Patheos blog Christ and Pop Culture, and wrote ‘Who Are You Sleeping With?’ My Conversation with Timothy Keller.  

First, here’s the context:

…Drawing on his experience in urban, culture-shaping Manhattan, Keller responded that one of the biggest obstacles to repentance for revival in the Church is the basic fact that almost all singles outside the Church and a majority inside the Church are sleeping with each other. In other words, good old-fashioned fornication.

The major substance of the piece comes in the second section:

Keller illustrated the point by talking about a tactic, one that he admittedly said was almost too cruel to use, that an old college pastor associate of his used when catching up with college students who were home from school. He’d ask them to grab coffee with him to catch up on life. When he’d come to the state of their spiritual lives, they’d often hem and haw, talking about the difficulties and doubts now that they’d taken a little philosophy, or maybe a science class or two, and how it all started to shake the foundations. At that point, he’d look at them and ask one question, “So who have you been sleeping with?” Shocked, their faces would inevitably fall and say something along the lines of, “How did you know?” or a real conversation would ensue. Keller pointed out that it’s a pretty easy bet that when you have a kid coming home with questions about evolution or philosophy, or some such issue, the prior issue is a troubled conscience. Honestly, as a Millennial and college director myself, I’ve seen it with a number of my friends and students—the Bible unsurprisingly starts to become a lot more “doubtful” for some of them once they’d had sex.

And it makes sense, right? When you’re engaged in behavior you’ve been raised to believe is wrong, but is still pretty fun, more than that, powerfully enslaving, you want to find reasons to disbelieve your former moral convictions. As Keller pointed out, Aldous Huxley famously confessed in his work Ends and Means that he didn’t want there to be a God and meaning because it interfered with his sexual freedom. While most of our contemporaries haven’t worked it out quite as philosophically as Huxley has, they’re spiritually in much the same place.

I’ve heard it said that one of the reason people love to debate Noah and the Ark and Jonah and the Whale is because they are looking for an out. If they can find a problem with the Biblical text in one section, it absolves them from responsibility in others. So much of the debate clearly is about something other than what it appears.

In one of the comments, I noted:

I’ve heard it said that one of the reasons churches are finding it so hard to get male volunteers is because a lot of guys don’t feel ‘worthy’ because of their online addiction to porn. Someone has already noted in the comments here its possible application in this situation as well.

In other words, spiritual intensity wanes as spiritual truth comes into conflict with actual individual behavior. 

Keller’s thesis did not sit well with Rachel Held Evans.  In a piece titled Is Doubt an STD? — the title itself confuses the cause and effect — she challenges the sweeping generality of Keller’s response:

Keller seems to assume that thoughtful questioning among young people are typically the result of sexual activity and their desire to justify it. This was not true for me, and it is not true for many of the young adults who leave college with questions about science, philosophy, politics, and religious pluralism that challenge the fundamentalism with which they were raised…

…Furthermore, learning that a college student is sexually active does not somehow discredit his or her faith experience.

But while she accuses Keller of being dismissive of the real spiritual concerns of young people, I felt she was just a little too dismissive of Keller.  I wrote:

Keller is teaching us to look for “the question behind the question,” not unlike Jesus with the woman at the well in John chapter 4. I think he may be on to something; but Rachel, I agree that this approach could backfire if it is dismissive of genuine questions and spiritual concerns. I think you have to earn the right to ask someone who they’re sleeping with.

There was a lot of push-back on Rachel’s take on Keller, and so yesterday, she published some of the highlights of the critiques she received.  You can read those here.

If you don’t know it, read the story of the Woman at the Well in John 4 here.

February 17, 2013

Jay Bakker Bares Past and Present Faith Doubts

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:15 am

PTL Club - Bakker FamilyIt’s hard to believe it’s been a dozen years since Jay Bakker –  once the little boy running around the set of Jim and Tammy-Faye Bakker’s PTL Club — emerged as Jay Bakker the author of Son of a Preacher Man, and co-founder of Revolution Church, in New York City where he still preaches.

His second book, Fall to Grace, was issued by FaithWords, but has been rolled over into the edgier Jericho Books imprint, where it was joined last week by the new Faith, Doubt, and Other Lines I’ve Crossed: Walking with the Unknown God.

Publisher’s Weekly wrote:

The pastor of a church that meets in a bar, Bakker has a special place in his heart for the GLBTQ community and offers a spirited biblical defense for the acceptance of sexual difference. He expresses a faith that encourages questions and emphasizes relationships rather than rules. Bakker writes in a simple, down-to-earth style as he counters the focus on exceptionalism, exclusion, sin, and guilt that dominate some forms of evangelical Christianity. Like fellow evangelical Rob Bell, Bakker doesn’t believe in a God who would consign people to hell for all eternity. Love trumps justice; participating in community trumps official church membership; compassion trumps dogma.

Faith and Doubt - Jay BakkerThe publisher’s own blurb states:

Innovative pastor Jay Bakker thought he knew God: the God who rigorously patrolled every aspect of his life, the God who chose sides, the God who was always disappointed in him. But through the transformative power of grace, he discovered the God who loved and accepted unconditionally, freeing him to ask the hard questions and delve into one of Christianity’s greatest taboos: doubt.

In Faith, Doubt, and Other Lines I’ve Crossed, Jay voices the questions that Christians are thinking but won’t ask as he chronicles his doubt about God, the Bible, heaven and hell, church, society, relationships, grace, and love. In the process he encourages all of us to welcome “the other,” to read the Bible differently but better, to draw together in community, and to seek an unknown God of limitless grace.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Jay Bakker says,

I’m trying to get people to really grasp the idea of allowing themselves to doubt in faith. I’m trying to get to deconstruct faith and say faith isn’t about having it figured out. Faith isn’t belief. Doubt is built-in with faith. Faith is not a fact. Faith has more in common with hope than it would [with] fact. There’s always an unknowing when it comes to faith.

In the same interview, he adds,

 Yes, I am definitely questioning the atonement and trying to discover how we can see it in a different way. We’ve got this image of God who needs some sort of flesh, some sort of blood, that needs some sort of vengeance to pay for sin. My experience of a loving God who’s asked me to love my enemies – this isn’t a God that demands something before you are accepted. I think Jesus died because Jesus was inclusive. God is inclusive. I think that the idea of God somehow being separated from us was more man’s idea.

I talk about in the book how when Jesus died and the curtain ripped and there was nothing behind the curtain of the Holy of Holies. I think that our ideas of separation are our own. I think we’re always coming up with other ideas of how we are separate from God, or for some reason why we have to be separate from God. I think that imagery of the temple curtain ripping and nothing being behind there is kind of the [same thing] as [God] saying “I’ve always been with you.”

For a few readers here, that may be enough to spark interest in reading Faith and Doubt, while for others it probably raises doubts about Bakker’s faith.

January 17, 2013

Review: Tyler Blanski – When Donkeys Talk

Donkeys Say the Darndest Things

When Donkeys Talk - Tyler BlanskiNormally I choose the books publishers send here, so when an advance copy of Tyler Blanski’s When Donkeys Talk arrived from Zondervan in the mail unsolicited, even though I was aware of his blog and have linked to a couple of  his articles, I set it aside. However curiosity got the better of me and I started reading, and then I did something I have never done: When I got to the last page, I turned back to chapter one and started reading it all over again.

There is something infectious about this  book. I want to say that Tyler Blanski is the new Donald Miller, but that would raise questions about the whereabouts of the old Donald Miller. Suffice it to say there are many similarities. Technically, this is not Blanski’s first book; he has a previous title which I’ve seen and recall is mostly poetry, and one other title beyond that. But this title with a major Christian publisher establishes him as a breakout author to watch.

How do I summarize this book? It’s about exploring the world of Biblical imagery and narrative where donkeys can talk* in a world dominated by science and logic and reason that donkeys cannot speak. Blanski may claim to be a humble 29-year-old house painter from Minneapolis, but there’s no hiding his academic labors in medieval studies, and so he looks at Christianity through the lens of how people in ancient times understood science and how they understood and practiced faith.

But he does this in the context of stories of interactions with his friends and acquaintances, many of whom are on a different plane when it comes to belief and God.  As a result, each chapter of the book has a different spiritual temperature, and each varies in its allusion to Biblical chapters and verses.

The characters in Blanski’s personal stories  constitute the Miller-esque element; I feel I know these people. And how can a book which seems so casual — almost random — in its approach to faith also be such a valuable snapshot of church history? Somehow he pulls it off.

The book also contains several references to Christmas, which left me wondering why Zondervan held this back for a January 22nd release. There are some thoughts here that I hope to remember to use as a resource when December rolls around.

The full title is, When Donkeys Talk: A Quest to Rediscover the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity. I would argue that the use of ‘rediscover’ here might precludes what I could consider this book’s best application: As an introduction to Christians and Christianity for seekers, skeptics and scientists, especially those in the under-40 demographic.

*See the story of Balaam in Numbers 22.

>>>Win a copy of When Donkeys Talk! Leave an inspired comment (!) about an experience you’ve had where a donkey spoke to you, or something similar (like “Why I’d really like to win this book”) followed by (US) or (Can), and our friends at Zondervan will send out a copy to one Canadian and one American winner from comments we select on Monday!  

UPDATE 1/22/13 — Picking a Canadian winner was easy, so Kristy, we’ll be contacting you for your address!  Katrina, you’re our U.S. winner, and no, it wasn’t a “names that start with K” thing.  Both of you should receive an email from me to get your mailing address, so look for it as it filled with words evocative of spam. Like really, if I got an email that said “Congratulations you’re a winner!” I’d probably trash it.

July 23, 2012

Undermining The Faith Foundation of Others

Three things this week came together to cause me to be concerned about what happens when people holding to more liberal Christian beliefs have influence over others.

The Book

The first was a confession from a guy I’ve gotten to know well in the last couple of years. It seems his pastor at a previous church had loaned him a copy of a book written by a well known, but very liberal Canadian “Christian” author.  He told us that the book totally undermined his faith; that he stopped going to church for three years; and that during those years his two children dropped out of church [at this point, possibly] never to return.

The Blog

Then, last week I linked to the Christian Clichés article. Personally, I love it when people call into question some of the words and phrases we’re emotionally bonded to; but I had not done a lot of background research on the author, and in the comments section of this blog, and other blogs that linked to it, some disturbing things came to light concerning the author’s orthodoxy.

The Sermon

Then, on the weekend, I decided to ‘help’ out a guy who has been asked — for the first time — to do a Sunday morning sermon at his church on the subject of a popular Old-Testament story. Knowing that a mega church in Grand Rapids, MI was covering this same territory, I sent him the sermon link before realizing that the pastor in questions has some serious misgivings as to whether or not the story can be accepted as fact.

Conclusion

We live in a time when doubts are cool; where transparency about a faith struggle is considered a virtue; where it’s okay to call the creation narrative in Genesis a “poem;” where hell may or may not exist and may or may not be everlasting. Still, the rule of hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) that has always stood Christians in good stead over the years is that, “Everything that can be taken literally should be taken literally.” This includes both the stories and the teachings. That may lead to different results with different people, but I believe it is the safest place from which to begin. Sadly, Christian belief is becoming increasingly diluted as increasing numbers of both mainline Protestants and Evangelicals seem to be throwing the baby out with the bath water.

If I were a new believer today, I would need a lot of guidance, and I would want to be shielded somehow by the ‘enlightened’ whose ‘insights’ might ultimately be doing more harm than good.

image: Transforming Leadership

February 3, 2011

Deconversion: Because Crossing the Line of Faith Works Both Ways

I’ve been reading the blog, Losing my Religion by Jeff McQuilkin since long before I started one of my own.  Maybe he had me at the title.  Jeff’s blog has always been at the leading edge of discussions on the issue of faith and doubt.

This one is a longer post, it might take you a good five minutes at least, and then I hope you’ll also track with the comments people have left there.  It’s about two people he knows of which one (to use language we use in this blog) is moving away from the cross while the other is moving toward the cross.

It’s also about faith that it is intellectual versus faith that goes beyond the mind.  It’s about objective absolute truth versus the subjectivity of belief based on empirical evidence.

It’s about you.  It’s about me.


Not long ago, I was browsing through my Google Reader, kind of sorting through and unsubscribing from blogs that had become inactive, and I came across a “good-bye” post from a fellow blogger. He had been struggling with his faith for some time, and I’d tracked with him for awhile because he had expressed such honesty and candor about his doubts and his feelings. This post was several months old (I was admittedly behind in my reading), but he’d written a good-bye post to close out this particular blog because he had finally decided there was no God, and he was now an atheist. Since the blog was about struggling with faith, and for him there was no more faith to struggle with, he’d moved on to write a new blog about atheism.

When I read his words, my heart sank in grief, and I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut. I only know this person from his writing–I don’t think we’d ever even commented on one another’s blogs–but I felt this profound sense of loss, and I grieved for my brother who had struggled so long and had come to such a sad conclusion. I say “sad,” because when I look at my own life and struggles, I cannot imagine the amount of sorrow I would feel if I ever came to the conclusion that there had been no divine purpose in it all, that all this time I’d been muddling through on my own, that there was really no One watching out for me. Never mind the implications of the afterlife–even the idea of living in the here-and-now with no belief in God (especially if belief was once there) is a completely devastating thought to me. This is why I grieved so for my brother who had lost his faith.

I am acquainted with another atheist for whom I don’t feel the same sense of grief and loss; in fact, I feel a bit of hope. In hearing him talk about his own struggles with faith, it’s actually apparent that he wants to believe. He’s not a militant atheist, and is friendly to Christians, even admires them; he says that the only thing that really keeps him from crossing the line into faith is that he is so analytical that he can’t get his mind around the idea of the supernatural. In short, his logical mind gets in the way.

From my perspective, the biggest difference between these two atheists is the direction the struggle for faith is taking them. For the latter, I think his path is ultimately toward Christ; he would totally be a Christ-follower if he could just overcome the mental block, and I have hope that one day this will happen for him. For the former, he’s coming from the opposite direction–he once had faith (or at least belief), but got disillusioned, and for one reason or another his doubts were never satisfied. So he walked away from Christ.

But despite this difference…

…continue reading here…

October 11, 2010

Philip Yancey: God Is What’s Good

Yes.   I am biased.

Upon first reading The Jesus I Never Knew on a fall day fifteen years ago, I knew I had found a favorite author.   So with great anticipation I looked forward to What Good is God (FaithWords) which releases officially on October 19th.   I was not disappointed.   This is a different book; it has a rhythm and cadence all its own; it is a book which will stretch any who read it, including Yancey aficionados like myself.

The format is quite different.

Divided into ten parts, each part contains two chapters which focus on a particular group of people, and a particular place in the world.   This is a travelog of sorts, and while you don’t have to spend the time in airport waiting rooms as did the author, you feel like you’ve earned some frequent flyer points by the time you turn the last page.

The first chapter in each of the ten sections describes Philip Yancey’s journey to a diverse set of places.    As a journalist, travel ignites his writing.   It also introduces the reason that finds him where he is in his role as a speaker.  The second chapter in each of the sections is in fact the text of a speech (or in one case, a sermon) given to a diverse group of people.

But I didn’t know that ahead of time.

So the second chapter of the first part totally ambushed me.   I am familiar with the feeling of tears welling up as one approaches the ending of a good book.   I did not expect that to happen so soon as it did in the first part, with the text of Yancey’s address to the student body of Virginia Tech just days after the shooting there left more than a dozen fatalities, and just a few more days since Philip Yancey’s own traffic mishap in Colorado left him close to either death or paralysis.

In the sections that followed are speeches to business leaders in China, sex trade workers and the people who minister to them,  the student body at his old Bible College, a Charismatic church in South Africa and members of the C. S. Lewis Society in Cambridge, England, an AA meeting, Christians in India and the middle east; and many others.  These are speeches and addresses you and I would never get to hear, and would never be drawn to read were it not for the set-up in the previous chapter.

But what of the book’s title?

I believe the title prepares you more for something along the lines of a response to today’s militant or “New” atheists.   Perhaps the marketing department at the publisher had something like that kind of hook in mind.   However, the book doesn’t deliver along the lines of apologetics, and while I wasn’t at all let down, I hope purchasers will be appraised about its true content before they buy.

Rather, through its series of narratives, the book demonstrates that if anything, God is what’s good in the world.   That on a global scale, Christianity is making a difference and on a personal level, this is a faith that works. The answer to the question the book’s title asks is found in the way that the Christian God infuses every area of life, especially those places of hurt and pain. This is Reaching for the Invisible God meets Where is God When it Hurts.    Or maybe The Bible meets your morning newspaper.

Still, seeking resolution to the book’s title promise, I turned over the final page and immediately rushed back to the introduction.   If I were not a believer, not a Christ follower, how would all these stories answer the title question?

Technology manufacturers have a phrase called “the tabletop test.”  Engineers design wonderful new products:  iPhones, netbooks, video game consoles, notebook computers, MP3 players, optical storage devices.   But will the shiny new product survive actual use by consumers in the real world?  What happens if it gets pushed off a table accidentally or dropped on a sidewalk?  Will the device still work?

I look for similar tests in the realm of faith.  My travels have taken me to places where Christians face a refiner’s fire of oppression, violence and plague…

When I spend time among such people, my own faith undergoes a tabletop test.   Do I mean what I write from my home in Colorado?…

I must admit, my own faith would be much more perilous if I knew only the U.S. church, which can seem more like a self-perpetuating institution.   Not so elsewhere.  Almost always I return from my travels encouraged, my faith buoyed…

If a person had never read Philip Yancey before is this book a good place to start?   Probably, I would recommend What’s So Amazing About Grace? For the rest of us, don’t miss this unique piece of writing from Philip which is, truly, as big as the whole world.

The full title is What Good is God:  In Search of a Faith that Matters (Faith Words, hardcover, 287 pages, October 19, 2010; $23.99 US/$26.99 CAN)

Photo:  Randal Olsson – The Christian Post

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